By Sterling McGinn
In this region full of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, one life skill is seen as essential: the ability to swim.
Swim class hasn’t been offered locally for years, but CCSS (Consolidated Community School Services) is currently trying to revive the Summer Swim Bus.
The swim bus program is similar to a summer day camp. Students meet in Newberry and are transported to and from the Luce County Park on a Tahquamenon Area Schools bus. The course lasts two weeks and is funded largely by contributions from community businesses and organizations.
“We live in an area with lakes and fresh water everywhere, and the program teaches and helps keep everyone safer,” said CCSS Coordinator Dave Edie. “The swim bus is designed to get kids to be safer around water by teaching basic water safety skills and information.”
During those two weeks that the swim bus is held, Water Safety Instructors (WSI), lifeguards and assistants are present to instruct the participants and teach basic water safety information.
Students have traditionally been divided according to their existing swimming abilities. One group consists of students just learning to swim, and the other includes more advanced swimmers.
Though it met an essential need, the swim bus program hasn’t been held for the past four years.
Several roadblocks resulted in the suspension of the swim bus.
WSI staff were hired, trained, and certified, but for various reasons, they decided to leave the area. Along with the leaving of the certified personnel, COVID-19 restrictions also halted the worthy program for a period.
To bring the program back, CCSS must have certified WSI and the necessary staff.
“If we are unsuccessful at finding candidates that are willing to be certified and/or willing to commit to the dates of the swim bus, the program will not happen,” Edie said.
WSI candidates need to be 16 years old or older to qualify and lifeguards must be at least 15 years old and meet employment requirements. Both must pass background checks.
If the program cannot be resurrected in 2023, they will try again next year.
Started decades ago, the iconic program dates to the 1940s, following the end of World War II. Joe DeCook, who served during the war, would pass a hat among the Newberry merchants to purchase gas for the bus. Not only did he drive the bus, he also was the lifeguard. DeCook later became the school district superintendent, and the J. L. DeCook Gymnasium is named after him.
Since its inception, swim bus has served generations of Luce County youth and is well remembered by all who participated.
“It’s a wonderful program,” said Margaret Goldthorpe, Newberry High School (NHS) alumnus and former school superintendent. “When I was a kid, there was an elementary bus in the morning, and a high school bus in the afternoon.”
Goldthorpe recalls former NHS football coach Morley Fraser participating in the swim bus program as a bus driver, swimming teacher, and lifeguard.
Anyone interested in helping with the program can contact the CCSS office at 906-293-3282.