The Endangered Diving Board

Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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Posted: Jun 08, 2008 12:01 AM
The Endangered Diving Board

 It’s summer – the kids are out of school and I am losing my mind.  The one spot that is sure to please parents and children alike is the swimming pool.  The children can play and wear themselves out while the parents can lie in the hot sun and relax.

As a parent, one of the joys of having a child is being able to relive a bit of your childhood yourself. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to improve on it a bit. 

When I was growing up, I loved to swim.  We normally swam at the college pool where my father was a professor.  We would swim for hours, exhausting ourselves.  After swimming, we would go the A&P and get a Morton’s chocolate ice cream pie.  My recollection is that I ate the entire pie myself (possibly explaining the fact that I also wore a shirt over my swimsuit when I swam).  More than likely, I shared it with the rest of the family.

As a mother of two elementary school children, I have come to appreciate the finer things associated with the swimming pool -- water and exhaustion. Three years ago, I added something new -- flips (front and back) from the diving board. As a child, I never had the courage to do a flip.  But I have to say, they are quite fun.  

With my newfound love for the diving board, I am constantly looking for them.  I have noticed that their numbers are declining.  Now this is not a scientific sample, but a result of looking out for diving boards wherever I go.

We Americans are not the only ones with a decline in the number of diving boards. In a February 3, 2008 article in the Telegraph titled “Government Criticised over Diving Board Plunge,” Gareth Davies notes that “Up to 3,000 campaigners took to the streets in Fylde on Saturday in a mass protest to save two swimming pools, in Kirkham and in St Anne's, which are earmarked for closure.” 

This protest came after a report by The Daily Telegraph regarding the current status of diving boards.  “In England, the number of public diving facilities, according to the GBDF (Great Britain Diving Federation), has plummeted from 296 to 66 since 1977, a net loss of 78 per cent.”

Wow.

Steve Moore, in his Wall Street Journal June 23, 2006 article, “Off the Deep End,” blames the decline in diving boards in the United States on the trial lawyers, noting that “Even cases in which there is no negligence on anyone's part can lead to jury awards of $5 million or more. The attorneys often walk off with up to half the loot. ‘This day and age, you can pretty much sue anyone for anything if there's an injury involved,’  (noted) a spokesman from the Pool and Spa Institute.”

The lawsuits result in insurance costs that are prohibitive to anyone contemplating including a diving board.  Moore believes that this shift to ensure that everyone stay safe is cultural as well as legal. “We Americans have become so risk averse when it comes to our children that we now see unacceptable dangers from even the most routine activities.

“It's not even clear that all these risk-reducing measures keep us safer. The research shows that boys will be boys (the vast majority of sporting accidents involve young males). If they can't get their thrills from diving boards, they will find other risky activities.”

This leads to the question of where they will find these thrills -- other physical activities or drugs and illegal behavior? 

In the May 3, 2008 issue of “The Economist,” the article “The Speedy Decline” referenced the recent success of the “war against methamphetamines.” It noted a University of Michigan study that found “the proportion of 18-year-olds who report using methamphetamines in the past year has fallen by almost two thirds since 1999.”  This decline has been offset by “a rise in cocaine, heroin and Oxycontin, a painkiller that can be abused.” 

This data reinforces Moore’s suggestion that a decline in one risky behavior leads to an increase in a substitute, which also includes risky activity.  So, while we might be saving them from the diving board – are we pushing them to find thrills in other areas, such as methamphetamines, cocaine or the choking game?  “The Speedy Decline” states, “It’s as though teenagers have a fixed quota of worry, which merely moves from drug to drug.”  I would rather they worry about diving boards than drugs.

Maybe, instead of engaging in a war against drugs, or a crusade against diving boards, it’s time for us, like the British (how often do we say that?) to rise up and declare that we want some good old-fashioned American fun.

Wouldn’t it be better to simply let our children jump off the diving board – after we do our flip first?