Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Serah Welborn
Le Roy High School
Like an oasis in a desert, Lytle Pool is a common haven to many in the community.
Mattoon resident Daniece Jones, for instance, takes her children swimming “as much as she can.” Jones describes their time in the water as a way to relax and come closer as a family.
“With all the stress in our lives right now, it’s nice to be able to come and let them just be kids,” she added.
Jones’ daughter, 5-year-old Katey, performed water-flips beside her and proudly displayed missing teeth. She ran off to the slide as her sister, Alexandria Gerberding, 12, described her new diving trick.
“I’m finally not scared to do a dive,” she said. “Swimming is probably my favorite sport, besides basketball.”
Weather permitting, Jones and her children can be seen at Lytle every other day.
Experimenting with her first year of retirement, Barb Durdel is changing her routine.
“This is the first time I’ve swam in Lytle Pool,” Durdel said. The visit with her five granddaughters, ages 7 through 15, was a part of her week’s schedule that will take them all over Mattoon. She calls the seven-day vacation “Camp Grandma,” which she hopes to hold annually with all of her 12 grandchildren.
“You get to know them a little better,” Durdel said. “(I’m enjoying it) very, very much.”
The kid-friendly environment can be attributed to Lytle’s staff.
Of the 44 lifeguards, only 13 are new recruits, mainly college students and upperclassmen from Mattoon High School. Most have been swimming at Lytle since childhood, so working there has become just another part of the community’s “family tradition.”
Their days start at 8 a.m. when they sweep the pool and clean the bath houses. They work 30-minute rotations in ideal conditions, occasionally doubling that time when there are too many swimmers.
“You have to make sure that you’re fresh,” a guard said. “Even though you’re just sitting there, the water gets to you.”
The lifeguards agreed the shallow end of the pool is the most difficult to cover, as it is very popular with small children who often stumble into the drop-off where they can’t swim. About 90 percent of these rescues happen because an adult isn’t properly supervising a child, Lytle Park Superintendent Justin Grady said.
Not all who go to Lytle cooperate so well. Symbols of what the lifeguards call “pool rats,” identical twins Tyler and Taylor Burch of Mattoon have been giving the system problems almost every day since their early tweens.
“(We get into trouble for) running, pushing people in, cussing,” said Taylor. “(We) don’t really follow the rules.”
Both brothers have been kicked out of Lytle pool multiple times in the past, once before the end of opening week.
“They travel life on the razor’s edge,” Grady said.
Now 16, Tyler was sure to mention that they were going for a new image.
“I do want to say … if you go to Lytle — respect the lifeguards. If they tell you something, you should listen,” Tyler said. “You don’t want to end up in the situation that me and my brother are in.”
Because of low temperatures and bad weather, Lytle has seen fewer customers. Last summer — during the record-setting drought — there was an average of about 680 patrons per day, but this year will be different, Grady said.
“It was cool at the beginning of the (2013) season, and that meant we only had about 15 to 20 or even 30 people here some days,” Grady said. He expects attendance to rise with the temperatures.