Pa. swim club accused of racism to ask kids back

Swim A private suburban swim club accused of racism after it canceled the memberships of dozens of minority children says it will seek a meeting with the kids’ camps to work out an agreement for them to return.

Amy Goldman, a member of The Valley Club, said those able to attend a hastily called meeting Sunday afternoon voted unanimously in support of reinstating the memberships of the Creative Steps day camp and two other camps as long as safety issues, times and terms can be agreed upon.

The Creative Steps camp had arranged for 65 mostly black and Hispanic children to swim each Monday afternoon at the gated Huntingdon Valley club, which is on a leafy hillside in a village straddling two overwhelmingly white townships. But after the group arrived June 29, camp director Alethea Wright said, several children reported hearing racial comments and some swim club members pulled their children out of the pool.

The camp’s $1,950 was refunded a few days later.

The president of the swim club’s board of directors, John Duesler, has said the decision was made out of safety considerations, not racial concerns.

“We have near-unanimous approval from our membership, so at this point we’ll be figuring out … how to approach all the camps and see how we can move forward,” Duesler told WPVI-TV at the club’s entrance on Sunday.

The swim club has claimed it has a diverse, multiethnic membership, but Goldman, a member for two years, said she couldn’t remember seeing a black member this year.

Goldman said members were told that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which has opened an investigation, is to make a fact-finding visit to the club July 30. U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., said Friday he had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate “to determine what action, if any, is warranted by the Civil Rights Division.”

Others to criticize the club include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the United States’ highest-profile black swimmer, Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, who said Thursday that “hearing about what’s happened to these 65 kids is both disturbing and appalling.”

Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming, the governing body for the U.S. swim team, said he was stunned by the accusations against the club.

Wright, the camp director, didn’t immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Sunday evening. She said earlier that other institutions had offered to host her group at their pools for the summer.

Camp parent Silvia Carvalho said she hadn’t heard about the club’s action but didn’t believe her 9-year-old daughter, Araceli, would be willing to return.

“She has already said so,” Carvalho said Sunday night. “She doesn’t want people to look at her the same way.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.