GODFREY – With the recent drowning deaths of 9-year-old Harry B. Saulsberry and a 7-year-old boy at Lake Catatoga in Macoupin County, near Carlinville, Riverbender.com wanted to ask local experts how such future tragedies could be prevented.

Kathy Conlee, who oversees the Lewis and Clark Community College (LCCC) swimming program said such deaths could easily be prevented with proper instruction and education. While free and accessible swimming lessons for young children could not be located at this time (contact Riverbender.com report Cory Davenport at 618-419-3046 if you know of one in the area), Conlee said instruction through the college can be done for as cheaply as $44 for seven or eight classes. As of right now, no vouchers are available for low-income people, and she said scholarships were formerly available, but none have recently been funded.

Classes are available during evenings at 6 and 6:45 p.m. Conlee said morning and weekend classes are also available. While classes are year-round, the next run of them will begin the week of Aug. 20, when many area children are returning to school after summer breaks. Classes are based on both age and skill level, with specialized courses – such as diving on Wednesdays.

Year-round swimming lessons and instruction are essential to children, Conlee said.

“Many parents only think about swimming lessons in the summer when it comes to pools and lakes,” she said. “But the pool at LCCC is open year-round. Kids should be learning in the colder months as well, because kids will forget things if they are only learning how to swim in the summer months.”

If children have not had swimming lessons, however, Conlee said there are a few important things to remember.

“I teach kids to always remember to roll onto their backs, so even if they are having trouble, it's easier for them to still breathe,” she said. “It doesn't take long at all to drown.”

Both children who drowned in recent weeks were taken to area hospitals where they were not able to be resuscitated. Each of the children also suffered in waters outside of a monitored pool (in Saulsberry's case, the marina pool was tragically nearby). Conlee said situations outside of traditional pools are often dangerous.

“It's dangerous because kids can't see the bottom,” she said. “In many cases, they just start walking in and aren't ready for the drop-off. When it drops out from under them and suddenly gets deeper, they start to panic.”

She also said rivers are especially dangerous due to strong currents and undercurrents. Because of that, she encourages everyone – even strong swimmers – to utilize proper safety measures such as life jackets.

“Even when people are strong swimmers, they need life jackets,” she said. “Especially if you're in a boat. If it wrecks, even strong swimmers can get knocked out. If you get knocked out and fall into the water without a life jacket, it's over.”

More information on swimming lessons from LCCC can be found at course registration on www.lccc.edu. Conlee said she could assist people with registration if they call her office at (618) 468-5760.

Reporter Cory Davenport can be reached via call or text at (618) 419-3046 or via email at cory@riverbender.com

Purchase photos from this article. Print Version