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For Baltimore mayor and youngsters, a welcome splashdown

They came by dozens Saturday wearing towels around their necks like superhero capes. Soon laughter and chatter filled the air as they jumped into cool water of the pool at Cherry Hill Splash Park.

They came by the dozens Saturday, wearing towels around their necks like superhero capes. Soon laughter and chatter filled the air as they jumped into the cool water of the pool at Cherry Hill Splash Park.

Ayla Lewis-Jones, 10, waded through the pool, occasionally dipping her ponytail into the water as friends swam and splashed around her.

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Ayla, a third-grader at Belmont Elementary, has been coming to the pool at Potee Street and Reedbird Avenue for the past five years.

"I get to play with friends and splash water and swim," she said.

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She said that in addition to learning how to swim through programs offered at the pool, she has learned lessons such as "respectful playing" and "not starting any fights."

Youngsters such as Ayla are exactly who Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wants to reach through the city's Big Splash 2015, the official launch of the summer pool season. Under the campaign, the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks is offering a variety of programs through its large park pools, neighborhood walk-to pools, indoor swimming facilities, wading pools and splash pads.

"City pools are so important during these hot days of summer," said Rawlings-Blake, who came to Cherry Hill on Saturday to announce the start of the pool season. "It's so important that we provide young people with recreational opportunity."

Activities include water aerobics, adult swimming classes, kayaking lessons, teen nights and "twilight swims," party-like gathering geared toward those over age 21.

Rawlings-Blake said pools are "essential" to help people cool off, exercise and stay healthy.

Vincent Paige, 13, said he's been coming to the pool since he was 8.

"In the hot days you can swim instead of going outside," said the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Elementary/Middle School eighth-grader. "I just like going in the water."

Vincent said there would be few options for his friends if the pool or summer camp at nearby Patapsco Elementary were not available.

"They are very important," he said. "It's giving kids something to do. It's helping our community."

Darryl Sutton, director of the Aquatics Division of the recreation and parks department, said the pools mean "everything" to the community.

"Any given day it's packed with toddlers to people 99 years and older," Sutton said.

While celebrating the pools, Rawlings-Blake also noted the need to fund recreation centers, a point of recent contention between herself and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. The mayor wants to sell four downtown parking garages to raise up to $60 million for the centers; Young has said he will not give the bill to authorize the sale a hearing unless he receives assurances that money will be used to build "super" recreation centers he says are needed in East and West Baltimore.

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"It's important that the council hears that bill," said Rawlings-Blake.

While that issue remains to be resolved, Cherry Hill residents were glad the pool season had arrived.

Elva Gilmore watched her granddaughter, Aniyah Bomar, 6, splash in the pool. This is Aniyah's third year coming to the pool, Gilmore said.

"It keeps her busy," she said. "She gets a lot of exercise. She meets a lot of friends. It's an excellent program. I can watch her having fun. We need programs like this to keep kids off the street."

Information about the city pool schedule is available at baltimorecity.gov/recnparks or by calling 410-396-3838.

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