ST. PETERSBURG — The biggest concern for the kids swimming at Jennie Hall pool on Sunday was which diving board they'd get to leap from and when.
They were blissfully unaware of the battle that raged over the pool, one of two that was on the chopping block but has since been spared.
The pool opened for the year this past weekend, the start of a season city officials hope will see higher attendance from neighborhoods that vehemently fought its closing. Mayor Bill Foster said he decided to keep the pools open because of residents' opposition, and will find other ways to bridge a $14 million deficit in next year's budget.
That was good news for the kids swimming Sunday, many of whom said they frequent the pool throughout the summer.
"Last summer I came every single day," said Reginald Jordan, 10, who lives close enough that he can walk to the pool. "I never got sick of the pool."
Jordan comes to the pool for the diving boards, where he spent hours perfecting a front flip. When he's tired of that, he heads to the other end of the pool to the two water slides.
Those, he said, are "a thrill ride."
That's the same excitement benefactor Jennie Hall had when she envisioned the pool in 1953. Her $25,000 donation allowed the city to build the first pool open to African-American residents.
The pool, built to accommodate 250, opened a year later to an at-capacity crowd. Hall, an 83-year-old white teacher from North Dakota, told the Times then that it was the "happiest" day of her life.
Then-Mayor Sam Johnson urged residents to make full use of the pool, a refrain Foster has taken up as well. Today, the Jennie Hall pool has the lowest attendance of the city's nine pools, with an average yearly attendance of 4,141.
Attendance Sunday reflected that trend. When it opened at 1 p.m., two kids had the pool to themselves.
Gradually, other kids showed up, forming lines two and three deep behind the diving boards and splashing one another in the shallow end.
Those who regularly come to the pool have stressed its importance to the community. It's a safe place for kids to go and stay out of trouble. Many learn to swim there.
"When I was little, my dad put me in the water and taught me to swim," 5-year-old India Shazell said. Her grandmother lives nearby, and she comes to the pool whenever her family visits.
India said she loves swimming. Snapped into a bright yellow life jacket with plenty of space to splash around, she was quick to show off her skills at the backstroke and holding her breath under water.
"Daddy! Daddy! Watch me! Look what I can do!"
Sara Gregory can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or [email protected]times.com.