CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — As the state moves into Phase 4 of Gov. Pritzker’s ‘Restore Illinois’ plan on Friday, youth swimmers at the Stephens Family YMCA are already back in the pool. And that puts a smile on Will Barker’s face, the Director of Aquatics at the Champaign nonprofit.
“They’re really happy to be there and they’re very hyper aware of what’s going on,” Barker said about the kids. “They sit in their seat and socially distance and wear their mask when they’re supposed to, they’re doing so amazing.”
Barker worked tirelessly to make it happen, spending months helping get more than 10,000 signatures for a petition, trying to get pools open again. He was even in on hiring a lobbying firm, along with the Illinois chapter of USA Swimming, so people could return to the pool after COVID-19 shut them down in March.
“We have a little bit of pool time, lots of kids but we’re able to break it up into sections and at least we’re swimming a little bit a day,” Barker said. “We’re trying to get them in as much as possible and they are doing awesome.”
Barker is working with about 120 kids right now, he often times has as many as 250 in the program. The kids are following social distancing protocols, meaning groups often have to be split up. Competitions are on hold, for now, but Barker says he’s hoping they will return in some form or fashion by August.