Cuyahoga Falls swimmer Andrew Appleby does not fit the mold of most high school sophomores.
An example is Appleby's decision to start a local version of ''Make A Splash.''
The national initiative, launched in 2007 by USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport, is aimed at helping to teach children how to swim.
Appleby, a Division I state qualifier this weekend in the 100-yard freestyle, said he plans to hold three sessions — spring, summer and fall-winter — this year at the new University Park YMCA in Akron on the Summa Akron City Hospital campus.
''When I was 13, I went down to Memphis [Tenn.] to swim in a meet with my cousin,'' Appleby said. ''I didn't realize it at first, but it was a combination of a swim meet and a ''Make A Splash'' program.
''The Memphis Tigers club team was conducting the program. I thought it was pretty cool and I wanted to get involved in something like that. Everybody deserves the opportunity to learn how to swim and I thought this was a way I could make a difference.''
Appleby said the goal is to have about 30 kids in each session, and to have 90 to 100 children graduate from the three sessions. Each session will have eight one-hour lessons in the pool under the YMCA guidelines, and stretch over a month.
''I am just looking forward to helping kids out, and watch them progress and learn the skills,'' Appleby said. ''I remember when I first started, quite frankly it was awful. I was 8 and I could barely swim to the other end of the pool. I loved it right away, though. I just wasn't good at it, but I got better at it. I love swimming. I love the feel of the water.''
The YMCA is providing free pool time, and Appleby has raised about $3,000 in donations to cover costs.
''Andrew has always been very motivated and when he sets his mind to something he typically accomplishes it,'' said Donna Jennings, Appleby's mother. ''This is something he first mentioned last August. I knew it would happen at some point. I am extremely proud of him for his initiative and his persistence.''
The national statistics regarding people drowning and not being able to swim are alarming. According to a study commissioned in 2008 by USA Swimming and the USA Swimming Foundation, nine people drown each day in the United States.
''I have coached Andrew since he was 9 years old and watched him grow up,'' Falls coach Peter Nauman said. ''We have always talked a lot about the importance to give back. This is his opportunity to give back to his community.
''He has been blessed with a lot of talent and he is preparing for the state meet. It is wonderful to see him progress into a young man and develop. He genuinely cares that people learn how to swim. The drowning rate for children disturbs him.''
The study also revealed that the drowning rate in ethnically diverse communities is two to three times higher than the national average. Furthermore, nearly six out of 10 African American and Hispanic-Latino children are unable to swim, nearly twice as many as their caucasian counterparts. Appleby is caucasian.
''The University Park location was closest to the population that this would serve the best,'' Jennings said. ''This is for kids that would not normally have access to a swimming pool.''
The study also said that children from nonswimming households are eight times more likely to be at risk of drowning, and that drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death in children under the age of 14.
Two key barriers that prevent children from learning to swim are fear of injury or drowning, and lack of parental encouragement.
Appleby, a a 6-foot-3 and 165-pound Silver Lake resident, said his coaches and several teammates will volunteer their time during the program to go along with the lifeguards that will supervise the pool. He is also hoping to get swimmers from other area high schools.
''I want the kids to be able to learn and also to be confident with the safety that is provided to them,'' Appleby said.
Appleby, who turns 16 on April 9, said local companies such as ACME Fresh Markets, Target and Competitive Aquatics Supply in Canton have made donations along with Earthwrights Designs in New Mexico, family and friends, the Cuyahoga Falls Riverfront YMCA Tigersharks and another company.
''Andrew is just a wonderful young man that worries more about everybody else instead of himself,'' Falls coach Mike McDonald said. ''He is just an unselfish young man, one of those types of kids that every coach dreams about coaching.''
Appleby said USA Swimming has donated Speedo suits, goggles and swim caps.
''I am so proud of him, it is hard to contain it,'' his father Paul Appleby said. ''He always has been extremely driven at whatever pursuit he happens to be involved in.
''I remember when he was 9-years-old and he was playing baseball. He was pitching in a game, and the umpire said to me after one inning: '[Is] he a straight-A student' and I said, 'Yes.' The umpire said, 'I could tell by his focus.'
''He loves swimming and he wanted to give something back to it.''
Sharp and mature
Appleby, who has a 3.9 cumulative grade-point average, also plays on the Black Tigers baseball team as a first baseman. He swam in national events in Coral Springs, Fla., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last year and will compete in Fort Lauderdale again in April.
''What makes Andrew a special swimmer, other than his natural ability, is he is unselfish and willing to give back to the sport, '' Tigersharks coach Dale Craddock said. ''He has come a long way in the last year to develop his leadership skills. He has a quiet confidence about him.''
Jon Albrecht, an ACME Fresh Markets Category Manager, said he enjoyed meeting Appleby.
''He wrote us a letter,'' Albrecht said. ''He wrote a bunch of letters to local businesses.
''I swam at Firestone, my two brothers swam at Firestone, my sister swam at Firestone and my father swam at Firestone. We all have an affinity to the sport, and we think this is a great cause. I swam down at the University of North Carolina and swam against Cullen Jones [when he swam for North Carolina State]. He is the face of this program.''
Jones, an African-American swimmer, was the subject of a four-page feature by Andrew Lawrence in the Aug. 23, 2010 edition of Sports Illustrated. The story was titled ''Giving kids a lifeline.'' Jones joined Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak and Garrett Weber-Gale in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing to win a gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay in a world-record time of 3:08.24.
Appleby said Aaron Peirsol, Firestone graduate Mark Gangloff and Jones are his favorite swimmers.
Albrecht, 27, was a state champion at Firestone as a senior in 2002 in the 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay. He said he wants the program to be sustainable after Appleby graduates from high school.
''We are all impressed with Andrew's professionalism and his writing,'' Albrecht said. ''We had him come into the office and he came in a suit and tie.
''He is a heck of a young man with his vision and dedication, and he is a talented swimmer. He is a really sharp kid. He is mature beyond his age.''
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