Junior lifeguard programs merge fun with beach safety on Delaware shores

Sunny afternoons on the beach mean rest and relaxation to hundreds of thousands making their way to the Maryland and Delaware shores each summer, but for a select few, the summertime means hard work. Each and every summer, lifeguards monitor the beaches, putting the lives of total strangers before their own. It’s that dedication and commitment that is handed down, year after year, as local beach patrols host their junior-lifeguard programs.

Coastal Point • File photo: Children particpate in the Jr. Lifeguard Olympics during the summer of 2010. The goal of the junior lifeguard program is to educate the kids about what it takes to be a lifeguard.Coastal Point • File photo
Children particpate in the Jr. Lifeguard Olympics during the summer of 2010. The goal of the junior lifeguard program is to educate the kids about what it takes to be a lifeguard.

Later this month and throughout July, the Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island patrols will each hold junior-lifeguard programs, culminating in early August with the Junior Lifeguard Competition, held each summer in Rehoboth Beach.

“The junior-lifeguard program is a lot of fun,” said Bethany Beach Patrol Captain Joe Donnelly, “and the kids really love it. While having fun, we try to teach kids about ocean and beach safety. Each day, the junior lifeguards learn a lesson, and between activities, we try to give the kids a sense of what it’s like to be an ocean-rescue lifeguard.”

Tim Ferry, beach patrol captain in Fenwick Island, keeps busy with the junior-lifeguard program in his town, having started Bethany Beach’s program during his tenure as a lifeguard and captain there.

“It’s definitely a great learning experience for the younger kids,” he said, “from a fun and educational standpoint. The kids learn the important water safety tips and identifying rip currents. We start with those elements, then add to it the lifeguarding skills, like getting acclimated with getting into the water the right way.”

Kids soon realize that being a lifeguard is more than sitting on top of a chair and getting a tan, he said.

“When kids see the lifeguards up there,” said Ferry, “they emulate what they’re doing. These well-rounded programs offer the exposure they need to learn the importance of being a guard. It has an extended effect on them.”

Over the years, the number of participants in the programs has been steadily increasing, and some of the new hires brought into the lifeguard programs are former junior lifeguards themselves.

“We’ve brought in as many as three lifeguards in one year who were all, at one time, junior lifeguards,” said Ferry. “They try it out as kids, see what it’s like, and it sticks with them. As they reach high school, they may be too old for the junior program, but they’re maturing and growing physically, and come back to be lifeguards in town.”

The programs inform tomorrow’s lifeguards, without taking from the responsibilities and roles of today’s heroes.

“The parents and towns are all very supportive of what we’re doing,” Ferry noted, “and those running the programs understand the workload that is involved. It doesn’t get overwhelming, and we make sure that it’s not taking away from the roles we play every day on the beaches.”

Course duration, fees and dates the programs are held vary between towns, with each holding their own courses independent of one another, but their message and goal is the same - to educate and inform kids the safety at the beaches while doing so in an enjoyable and fun atmosphere.

Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island beach patrols each hold their own junior lifeguard programs, available in single day, week-long or summer-long sessions. Boys and girls, ages 9 through 15, can participate.

For information about Bethany Beach’s junior lifeguard programs, visit www.townofbethanybeach.com/index.aspx?NID=218. For details about Fenwick Island’s junior lifeguard program, go to http://fenwickisland.delaware.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/944. For information about South Bethany’s program, check out http://www.southbethany.org/pdfbin/SOUTH%20BETHANY%20JU
NIOR%20GUARDS%202012.pdf. Applications and details can also be picked up at the respective town halls of participating towns.

Sessions are limited, so interested participants are being encouraged to act early.