Lack of lifeguards leads to summer pool shortage

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Unlike others, when Sheila Holley gazes at the old, retired, one-time oasis that is the outdoor Play Inc. pool she sees possibility. The pool is by most accounts abandoned — a crack runs through its bottom, seemingly screaming for some heavy duty caulk and a good paint job, but Holley clings to hope.

“I’m sure the pool will be open some day,” Holley, a Play Inc. board member, said with no sign of hesitation. “Right now it looks kind of rundown, but there’s a lot of people who would like to see that outdoor pool up and running.”

But some day isn’t soon enough for those who tap their feet in lines outside of the indoor Play Inc. pool. It is currently the only public option for potential swimmers — due to lack of lifeguards, Potter Pool has not yet opened its doors. Maximum capacity at the indoor pool is 175 and conditions inside can be less than desirable — a blocked sun limits appeal, while temperatures inside can be stifling. To add to the list of detractions, some patrons have been forced to wait more than 20 minutes to enter the pool; as the only open dipping spot in the area to date, it tends to overcrowd.

This isn’t the first time the opening at Potter has been delayed. The brakes were slammed on last year when Parks and Recreation Director Rob Carter told the City Commission that Potter Pool could not open on Memorial Day, as is usual. Although the pool is free from the black mold that encrusted its sides last year around this time, delaying opening, Carter is once again scrambling to find certified life guards. Clovis is no Baywatch — so far he has only lined up one certified lifeguard.

Play Inc. employees also report a shortage of lifeguards.

Erin Minyard, a 19-year-old certified lifeguard who watches swimmers at Play Inc. like a hawk, counting heads and occasionally jumping in to pull an overly confident toddler from the deep end, understands the reason why.

“A lifeguard doesn’t just sit on a stand and watch people,” said Minyard, a second year returning lifeguard who makes $6.50 per hour. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard work.”

Minyard rattled off a list of regulations; among the least known, is a rule against swimming while clothed in a T-shirt, which the Clovis Community College student calls a drowning hazard and pool filter clogger. Minyard said her days are a string of rule reinforcements. Still, Minyard recommends the job to her peers.

The major obstacle in their way, she said, is a heavy certification fee. Minyard paid more than $100 in order to receive training. It is a fee she said keeps the stands at Potter empty and the ones at Play Inc. full of overwhelmed staff.

“A lot of people see life guarding as a teenage summer job. You only have to be 15 to be a lifeguard, so for a lot of kids it could be a good summer job. But then again, their parents don’t have the $100 for the class. It would really help if there was a reduced cost,” Minyard said, the sound of water splashing and shouting, tokens of summer fun, in the background.

For now, those who are drawn to the water will have to settle for the Play Inc. indoor pool. At the very least, they can count themselves lucky to be blessed with at least the four working lifeguards there.