Waterfront: August 2007 - Art Imitating Life; End Of An Era

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Art Imitating Life

Philadelphia swim coach in the pool and on the silver screen. 

This past spring, Lionsgate Films released the movie Pride , an inspiring story loosely based on the life of Jim Ellis, a schoolteacher in the '70s who changed lives by founding and coaching an African-American swim team in a rough Philadelphia inner-city neighborhood. Today, the Philadelphia Department of Recreation Swim Team is the city's nationally recognized competitive team and the nation's best predominately African-American team.

Coach Ellis and his assistant Tracy Freeland not only teach youth the sport of swimming, they also teach them a way of life. While part of the swim team's mission is to introduce competitive swimming to inner-city youth, it also strives to expose swimmers to different lifestyles and parts of the country, ultimately preparing them for a better future, one of the underlying messages in Pride . "I hope [young people] get a little inspiration and realize they can do and be anything they choose to be, whatever their dreams are," says Ellis.

The positive influence Ellis has had on his students have helped mold them into the successful individuals they are today: a New York entertainment lawyer, a bank executive and a writer for Town & Country , just to name a few. Be sure to check out Pride, which is now available on DVD.

End Of An Era

New Deal pool to be replaced by modern facility.

Built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a part of FDR's New Deal, the Bessey Swimming Pool at the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey, Neb., is the only known surviving CCC-era Forest Service swimming pool in the nation. Soon it will only live on in memories.

Over the years, thousands of children have learned to swim in the pool, but at this point, the pool would require massive renovations to stay open. Because of leaks, 2 to 4 inches of water must be added daily. With the addition of cold water every day, the unheated pool can be uncomfortably cool. "The shallowest part of it is 4 feet deep, and so you pretty much get in and swim or hang on to the side if you don't swim," says Bob Broweleit, coordinator at Sandhills RC&D, which has created the Nebraska National Forest Friends, a group of community members working to keep a pool at the forest.

The Forest Friends surveyed local residents and found that the majority favored replacing the existing facility. "We'd like to build a new pool with a zero-depth entry," adds Broweleit. Earlier this year, the Forest Friends launched a fundraising campaign and received generous corporate donations to kick-off its efforts. Anyone interested in donating toward construction of the new pool can visit sandhillsrcd.org for more information.

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