Jose Martins’s joy is palpable on the hot, sticky pool deck at Marshall Elementary, where the humidity is infused with the chlorine. The pool opened four days ago. Today, swimmers — some in their bikini tops — are outside waiting to get in.
Girls preen for boys in board shorts as little kids splash around in oversized goggles. Jose, who lives on Draper Street in the house he grew up in, shouts reminders to ungraceful swimmers: To go into the deep end, he yells, you must pass the swim test.
“Don’t cross the line!” he says, pointing to the mark where the shallow water ends.
How his words are discernible over the ear-splitting echoes is anyone’s guess. But Jose barks orders, tossing orange, yellow, and blue foam noodles into the pool as his assistant stands guard.
For 90 minutes, during the only part of the day not set aside for formal swimming programs, he referees tweenage drama, shows middle-schoolers how to tread water while holding a brick over their heads and encourages timid swimmers to take the plunge. He wishes he could do more, keep them there longer. Many of the kids are the age when they could be in the streets hanging and instead they’re here, swimming.
“Alright, guys. Everybody out!” he yells then blows his whistle. “See you Monday!”Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.