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South Shore News

YMCA’s Camp Cristina makes a splash to prevent drowning

BY ELAINE SPEER
Special Correspondent

Published:   |   Updated: June 19, 2014 at 11:21 AM

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RIVERVIEW – School is out for the summer. That means summer camps and plenty of swim time for many local kids.

And at YMCA Camp Cristina – a kid’s fantasy outdoor playground tucked among 65 acres on Balm Riverview Road – swimming and water sports are a big part of the fun.

With summer fun comes a wave of caution, however. Kids and water have the potential to be a deadly combination. According to the Florida Department of Health, Florida leads the country in drowning deaths for children age 5 and under. And drowning is the second leading cause of deaths of children ages 1 to 14.

So before all the splashing, games of Marco Polo and cannonballs can commence, all Camp Cristina campers are swim tested and assigned to one of three levels. Based on the swimming skills they demonstrate, kids will receive basic swim instruction or freestyle breathing techniques and stroke development.

“Everyone needs to come to camp and become a better swimmer, regardless of their swim level,” said Darren Dannelly, executive director of Camp Cristina for the past five years.

Camp Cristina recognizes the need for all populations to learn to swim. Data from USA Swimming shows that 70 percent of African American children and 62 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, statistically making them more likely to drown.

In response to recent drownings in a neighboring Riverview community, the Y is giving camp scholarships to children attending Camp Cristina from that neighborhood and an additional two days per week of swim instruction. Campers don’t have to swim like Michael Phelps to have fun. But everyone can enjoy learning how to be a better swimmer.

“We use games to make it fun,” Dannelly said. “And we build up their endurance to be better swimmers.”

Riverview resident and camp counselor Brendon Clough helped assess campers during the swim test. It’s a tough job.

“I make sure kids have fun and that they are active and having fun,” said the University of Florida student. “The kids are hilarious – it’s a good summer job.”

In addition to Camp Cristina’s swim safety and instruction, the Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist and the Tampa YMCA have formed a summer partnership called “Be water smart from the start.” The initiative focuses on drowning awareness and provides the entire Tampa Bay community with drowning prevention resources. Visit www.ymcatampabay.org to learn quick tips for water safety and prevent accidental drowning.

Although summer camp has already kicked off, it’s not too late jump in and join the fun.

With an average of 475 campers attending each week, Camp Cristina still has limited space available for school-aged kids entering grades 1-9. For information on specific camp weeks and availability, call (813) 677-8400.

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