The following is the latest installment of the Alabama Power Foundation’s annual report, highlighting the people and groups spreading good across Alabama with the foundation’s support.
What good is a pool if you can’t swim in it? That was the problem the city of Ozark faced when a new community pool couldn’t open without specially trained lifeguards.
The Ozark Community Pool was the brainchild of Mayor Bob Bunting, who came out of retirement to run for office on the promise of building such a facility for the community. Bunting had a personal reason for wanting a place in Ozark for children to learn to swim. He had been mayor in 1989, when an Ozark High School football star seemed destined to play for the Crimson Tide, until he was in a car accident that left the car and the passengers submerged in a pond. While the other passengers swam to safety, the promising young athlete drowned because he didn’t know how to swim.
Ozark elected Bunting again in 2016 on the promise of the aquatic center. He hit the ground running, rolling up his sleeves and working to raise money to fund the effort. Some 521 personal letters later, he had raised a significant portion of the needed funds. The Wiregrass Foundation pitched in, as did the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. The result was a beautiful new community pool and aquatics center. He was able to raise the extra money required to build a competitive-sized pool that local schools could use for swim teams. There was only one problem: Deep-water lifeguards were required.
“We found there are a lot of shallow-water lifeguards out there, but we’ve had to find and train deep-water lifeguards,” Bunting said.
To be ready for the next full swim season, the city needed to find more lifeguards and resources to provide proper training. Thanks to a grant from the Alabama Power Foundation, Ozark has water safety courses and is training lifeguards for the new pool.
“The grant will cover anything related to the training of the lifeguards,” Bunting said. “So we’ll have uniforms for them, an adult mannequin, a child mannequin, manuals … a belt for each lifeguard.”
Being able to use the pool is only part of Bunting’s vision.
“I want to make sure that every child in Ozark knows how to swim,” he said. “We’re looking at starting in the third or fourth grade. Every year, for example, we’ll teach all of the fourth-graders to swim. Over a period of time, every child who goes through our school system will know how.”
Courtney Ganz, Ozark’s new aquatic director, is tasked with developing the pool programs. “We’re just ramping up, trying to get all of our programming started,” she said. “That’s what’s making this different. Ozark had a pool at one time, oh, about 10 years ago, but we wanted something that offered more services to the community.”
As the city of Ozark completes a busy season at the new pool, the list of available classes and activities continues to grow. The facility is helping people stay in shape, with aquacise classes for seniors and swimming lessons for all ages. Most importantly, the pool is a reminder of what can happen when a community comes together for good.