Sports column: Learn to Swim program is one of Vicksburg’s best deals

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, May 14, 2023

I’m not sure I ever “learned” to swim.

There was the family trip to Florida when I was left to play in the pool while my parents got a sales pitch on a timeshare. I remember figuring out how to dog paddle a bit then.

Another trip to Virginia led to a cringeworthy moment in the hotel pool when my sister convinced me to jump off the diving board. Terrified, I refused for what was probably 30 minutes. A couple dozen hotel guests eventually gathered around the board to catch me when I jumped and I finally went. With floaties on.

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A visit to my aunt and uncle’s house in New Orleans provided a breakthrough. They had a pool in the backyard and my sisters pretty much dragged me in and forced me to sink or swim. I like to think they wouldn’t have let me sink, but siblings can be funny sometimes.

Looking back, it’s a good thing we took some decent vacations back then or else I might never have figured this thing out.

I finally mastered swimming when I joined the high school team in ninth grade, in another sink or swim kind of moment. I still couldn’t swim well at first, but was thankfully given the opportunity to get the hang of it and eventually became halfway decent on a competitive level.

My hometown did not have anything like the Learn to Swim Program that is offered each summer at City Pool. It is, as City Pool manager Sylvia Gurtowski calls it, “The best deal in town.”

For $15 you get eight lessons from certified American Red Cross lifeguards. The classes won’t magically transform someone into a world class swimmer, nor is it supposed to. The program is for beginners and is intended to get them comfortable in the water and able to get back to a safe spot.

If they fall into a lake, the lessons from Learn to Swim can help them get back to the boat. If they fall in the pool, it’ll help them tread water or get to the safety of the side. In a state filled with ponds and lakes, those small skills save lives.

Those are also skills you’re never too old to learn. The classes are designed to teach adults as well as children, and a number of adults sign up each year.

“The adults are as giddy as the children when they make it across the pool,” Gurtowski said.

The 2023 Learn to Swim program sessions are held in June and July, but registration is coming up this week. Registration begins Wednesday, May 17 and continue through Friday, May 19 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day at the City Park Pavilion. On Saturday, May 20, one last sign-up period will be open from 10 a.m. to noon at City Pool on Lee Street.

The cost is $15, payable by cash or check only. Registration must be done in person.

Space is very limited and the classes fill up fast, so don’t delay. Sign up your child. Sign up yourself if you need to. Swimming is a basic life skill everyone should have, and it’s one you’re never too young or too old to add to your repertoire. The Learn to Swim program is an invaluable resource in Vicksburg that can help you do it.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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