The waters were still and the gates locked at the Valley Swim Club Thursday. Board members decided to close the private Huntington Valley, Pa., club for the day as it combats accusations of racism for booting 65 mostly minority day campers from its grounds without explanation late last month.
Creative Steps Day Camp paid The Valley Swim Club more than $1900 for one day of swimming a week, but after the first day, the money was quickly refunded and the campers were told not to return. Several campers said they heard pool members making racial remarks during their time inside the club.
Tempers further flared after the club's president John Duesler issued a statement Tuesday saying "There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club."
Club members, who were at the 10-acre suburban complex on the day of the incident, came forward Thursday to defend the organization.
"This has nothing to do with race," member Lori Slowinski said. "I paid my money for a private swim club…if they're gonna have it out to camps, then I want my money back."
Jim Flynn went right to the club president after the kids took the plunge into the 110,000 gallon pool. "I was the first person to talk to the president, because the pool was overcrowded," said Flynn. "As members we have nothing to hide. There's good people here."
He believes the club's closure for fear of protests is wrong. "I do not condone the club being closed today and I will not condone it."
Members are angry the club, which is advertising open enrollment, inked deals with three camps to have campers come in and swim. They say members were not notified about allowing the camps to attend the club.
The club issued this statement late Thursday, responding to the allegations of racism:
The Valley Club is deeply troubled by the recent allegations of racism, which are completely untrue.
We had originally agreed to invite the camps to use our facility, knowing full well that the children from the camps were from multi-ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, we quickly learned that we underestimated the capacity of our facilities and realized that we could not accommodate the number of children from these camps. All funds were returned to the camps and we will re-evaluate the issue at a later date to determine whether it can be feasible in the future.
Our Valley Club deplores discrimination in any form, as is evidenced by our multi-ethnic and diverse membership. Whatever comments may or may not have been made by an individual member is an opinion not shared by The Valley Club Board.
Daniel Veres, a 16-year old Hispanic teen who is also a member, says the entire situation is just a misunderstanding. "We're not judgmental, we're just friendly," Veres said of the mostly white club.
For the children involved, the entire situation has left them simply sad and confused.
"I heard one lady saying 'Why's there so many black kids here' cause she said she was afraid that we might do something to her child," recalled camper Dymire Baylor. "How could they say that?"
If given the chance, the campers say they wouldn't step foot in the swim club, but they will be able to swim once again this summer. Girard College, a private Philadelphia boarding school for children who live in low-income and single parent homes, stepped in and offered their pool to Creative Steps.
"We had to help," said Girard College director of Admissions Tamara Leclair. "Every child deserves an incredible summer camp experience."
The school already serves 500 campers of its own, but felt they could squeeze in 65 more -- especially since the pool is vacant on the day the Creative Steps had originally planned to swim at Valley Swim Club.
The situation has become the center of national and international attention -- from bloggers to people on the street to the Anti-Defamation League, many are angry over the move to ban the kids. Even U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) plans to launch an investigation into the discrimination claim.
"The allegations against the swim club as they are reported are extremely disturbing," Specter said in a statement. "I am reaching out to the parties involved to ascertain the facts. Racial discrimination has no place in America today."
He sent a letter to Duesler and the club's board Thursday denouncing their actions.
Dozens of protesters were also denouncing the club's decision. Chanting "Jim Crow swims here," they held signs high while parading by the entrance to the club Thursday night. The signs read, "'Privately' excluding some stains everyone's complexion," "Drown racism" and "Good enough for the White House, but not the swim club."
"It feels like I stepped into a weird time warp," said protester Spenser Lewis. He says its a time that "should be gone."