The International Swimming Hall of Fame, in addition to honoring pioneers and athletes in the aquatics industry and documenting the history of aquatics, has a spiritual mission of teaching people how to swim.
“We’ve always believed in that principal that it’s a basic parental responsibility to teach kids to swim,” says Bill Kent, the current ISHOF chairman of the board and CEO of Team Horner. “That mission had kind of fallen by the wayside. I decided that we needed to do something about this spiritual mission. That’s how the idea was germinated to do some legislation.”
Through his connections across the state, Kent was able to get the Every Child a Swimmer bill sponsored and introduced to the Florida house and senate. But after making its way unanimously through several committees it appeared the bill would not make it to a vote.
“Things were looking really rosy, except on the house side it disappeared,” Kent says. “Here I am with two weeks left in the legislative session and it’s dead in the house.”
But in the end the senate amended Kent’s bill and added it to another education act, which passed.
Now, the parents of every child enrolled in school in Florida will be given either electronic or paper access educating them on the importance of teaching their children how to swim and where to find local swimming lessons.
“You have an 88% less chance of drowning if you know how to swim,” Kent says. The watchdog organization Florida TaxWatch performed research studying the potential effects of the Every Child a Swimmer bill.
“Florida leads the United States in unintentional drowning deaths for children ages 0-4, and the drowning rate for children ages 5-12 has increased significantly over the last decade,” says Dominic Calabro, Florida TaxWatch president and CEO. “While the lasting emotional impact of those losses is unimaginable and should not be downplayed, the economic consequences are also surprisingly severe. In fact, if all of the 298 drowning deaths that occurred among children five and younger from 2017-2019 — just two years — could have been avoided, the economic risk reduction would be between $3.1-$7.8 billion.”
Kent says the next goal is to have the same legislation adopted across the country.