Romona's Kids: YMCA East Side Stingrays

Romona's Kids: YMCA East Side Stingrays

It's a sad scene that plays out again and again on local beaches. Someone who doesn't know how to swim disappears under the waves and drowns.

According to a study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis, 70% of African-Americans can't swim, and more than one in five fatal drowning victims are children younger than 14. But a local swim team is trying to turn those statistics around.

The YMCA East Side Stingray swim team is showing other children that they can do more than stand in the shallow end and splash around. The Stingrays can compete with elite local swimmers.

"It's to strengthen kids and get them ready to go into the big leagues, like the Olympics, or a college scholarship," said Kennedy Bass of Bedford.

"This is bringing out our minority and teaching them how to swim, building up our confidence to swim," said Macie Berkley of Beachwood. "The first couple of meets I was nervous, but after a while I got used to it."

"It's not the largest team in the community but they're very competitive, largely African American which gives them a lot of pride to be out there," said coach Kevin McCardle, of the Warrensville Heights YMCA. "They're learning a lot of life skills as well as swimming, they're learning perseverance, long term gratification, dedication to what they're doing and they all have that dedication as well as their families so it's a great thing."

"I'm happy coming here because it's my team and we're fast, and I like representing it, it's fun," said Maria Jones of Bedford.

The Stingrays are hoping for sponsors because it's an expensive sport and some families simply can't afford the cost. They're trying to grow the team to 100 swimmers, and move up to a larger league.

"When I see them happy, when I see them smile, when I hear them say, 'we got a victory, we got a W,' that means a lot to me," said Karl Ivy, volunteer coach.

It was just two years ago when Romona Robison decided she didn't want to be a statistic, and finally learned to swim, after nearly drowning when she was 21.

Saturday March 1, a number of Stingrays will be in the League Championship, swimming against more than 1500 hundred kids from all over Northeast Ohio. They have a message for kids who can't swim: "Take swimming lessons, keep trying and trying, if you don't get it right, you won't get it right at first, but just keep trying and trying until you get it right and you'll be good," said Jones.

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