Campers Say "No Thanks" to Swim Club Welcome - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Campers Say "No Thanks" to Swim Club Welcome

Creative Steps declines "open arm" welcome



    Campers Say "No Thanks" to Swim Club Welcome
    The Valley Club plans to open its gates once again to campers who were asked to leave.

    Campers from Creative Steps have declined an invitation from The Valley Club to come back and swim at the private club.

    The Valley Club extended a chance to come back to three day camps whose contracts to swim at the private swim organization were abruptly canceled.

    But the apology came too late and the damage has been done. No one from Creative Steps wants to return to the swim club.

    When asked if she was comfortable with attending the pool again, camper Araceli Bagwell, said "no, because they already kicked us out."

    Campers Reject Swim Club's Offer

    [PHI] Campers Reject Swim Club's Offer
    Campers from Creative Steps say "No Thanks" to welcome back
    (Published Tuesday, July 14, 2009)

    Members of the club's board voted unanimously at a quickly scheduled meeting Sunday afternoon to reinstate contracts allowing children from Creative Steps and two additional camps to once again cool off at the Huntington Valley, Pa. swim club. The club says it will still need to solve issues like safety, but is glad to welcome the children back.

    The reversal comes after a week of intense pressure and national debate as to whether the group of 60 mostly minority kids from the Creative Steps day camp were asked to leave the club because of their race.

    Creative Steps paid $1,950 to have campers swim at the 10-acre complex on Mondays through August, but after members complained on the first day, the camp's privileges were revoked and money returned.

    Several students said they heard members making racial remarks while they were at The Valley Club. "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?"

    Further fanning the flames, the club's president Dr. John Duesler issued a statement last Tuesday saying "There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club."

    Duesler apologized Friday, admitting to a poor choice of words. "We deeply regret this whole situation," Duesler said. "We never meant to offend anyone." He and other members of the club maintain that safety and not race was the issue.

    “We saw a number on paper had no idea what that would look like. It was an error in our judgment, we underestimated what we could handle,” said Duesler.

    The swim club also cancelled agreements with two other camps in the days following the termination of Creative Steps' contract. Duesler declined to reveal the names of the other camps involved.

    Club members defended the move to cancel the memberships saying the private swim club was no longer private with campers running around. "I was the first person to talk to the president, because the pool was overcrowded," said member Jim Flynn Thursday.

    But it was Duesler's three-day silence that seemed to incite growing support for the racism claim -- gaining more attention on-air, online and on paper each day. Protesters paraded by the entrance to the private club as cable networks, blogs and even readers in our own comments sections debated over the legitimacy of the racist accusations.

    U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, the Anti-Defamation League and even the U.S. Swim Team weighed in on the issue. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission opened an investigation and will be making a fact-finding visit on July 30.

    A class action lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of a woman and her four children late Friday. The suit claims the children and several others "were denied swimming privileges due to the color of their skin."

    "On a human level, they felt discriminated," attorney David S. Mildenberg said on behalf of the family.

    Mildenberg and his brother Brian commended the club's actions and said they would recommend the suit be dropped of the camp and director Alethaea Wright are satisfied with the decision. "We're gonna wait, we're gonna see what happens," said attorney Brian Mildenberg Sunday. "We're gonna request and recommend that the case be put on hold temporarily and if everything gets worked out, that's it."

    But on Monday, attorney Michael Kuldiner announced that he will file a federal lawsuit within the week on behalf of many of the families and Creative Steps Inc. against the swim club.

    Kuldiner will also seek the removal of Valley Club members who made derogatory comments towards the children during the camp's visit.