As gyms across the state remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local prep sports coaches are forced to come up with creative ways to get their athletes in shape for the coming fall season.
Buccaneers volleyball and basketball coaches are meeting with their athletes twice a week at Grand Haven City Beach for a sand-filled workout. Thursday’s workout was led by volleyball coach Aaron Smaka, while basketball coach Greg Immink joined his squad in the workout.
Athletes bring along a 5-gallon bucket, which is incorporated into the workout.
Exercising at the beach allows the kids to stay spread out while still gathering with their teammates, the coaches say.
Water rescue incidents on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan are already happening at a higher rate than usual for this time of year.
Lt. Cmdr. Brian Swintek, the search-and-rescue coordinator for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, said they are 5-8 percent higher. That’s probably due to the unusually warm weather during the Memorial Day weekend, as well as the number of people who have been off work due to the pandemic, Swintek said.
While the Coast Guard is always ready and willing to help, Swintek reminds people to take precautions when going out on the water, either in person or by boat.
Bystanders rescued a woman and two children who struggled in 5-foot waves Tuesday afternoon at Holland State Park, according to Sgt. Eric Westveer of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office.
The red flags were flying at the time. That means “don’t go into the water if the flag is yellow or red,” said Jeff Hawke, director of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety.
Also, be aware of rip currents and structural currents, specifically in the area of the Grand Haven State Park Pavilion and pier, Hawke said. Rip currents flow out from the beach and are powerful, fast-moving, narrow channels of water that create a powerful undertow. The same situation occurs at the south pier, with water flowing back out along the south side of the structure.
Don’t jump off the pier. There are large boulders underwater as well as the rip currents.
If you look and see big waves coming in, don’t go in the water. The power of the wave action is deceiving. Most of the tragedies in recent years have occurred during times of high wind/big wave conditions.
If you are going out in any kind of boat, wearing a life jacket is essential, Swintek said.
The Coast Guard commander noted a case in Holland earlier this year in which a kayak overturned on Lake Michigan and the paddler was unable to get back into the boat.
“Her friend stayed with her,” Swintek said. “They took the first step to saving themselves in wearing life jackets.”
Both girls were safely brought to shore.
Another situation with a happy ending, although not in West Michigan, occurred because the people were also wearing life jackets, Swintek said.
Last fall, when their kids went back to school, a couple went out on Lake Michigan on their personal watercraft and fell off. The small vessel got away from them. A passing boater saw the watercraft and no people around and towed it to shore.
It wasn’t until hours later, when police opened a compartment and saw two cellphones with missed calls from the children’s schools that they realized the parents were missing.
“Sure enough, we found them alive because they wore their life jackets,” Swintek said.
The rescue crew found the couple swimming determinedly to shore, despite being cold and fatigued.
“Mom wasn’t going to let her kids grow up without parents,” Swintek said.
Swintek said not every incident ends that way. He said that he does the death notifications to next of kin, and he almost always asks if the person was wearing a life jacket.
“The answer is usually no,” the search-and-rescue official said.
Swintek said that if you are going boating, remember to wear your life jacket, check the weather, make sure someone knows your plan and have a form of communication such as a recreational VHF radio.
Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, has been pushing for communities to use lifeguards on Great Lakes beaches.
“A lifeguard’s job is to get to the drowning victim before the submersion, interrupt the drowning process, provide flotation and bring the victim back to shore alive,” he said. “And, according to ‘The Process of Drowning Timeline,’ lifeguards are a drowning person’s only hope.”
According to the timeline, it takes less than a minute of struggling in the water for a drowning person to submerge. At around 3 minutes of submersion, the heart stops. At around 4 minutes, irreversible brain damage begins.
Even though first responders can often be at the scene within four minutes, this doesn’t take into account how much time it takes for people to call for help, Benjamin says.
He adds that, at around 10 minutes of submersion, a person only has a 14 percent chance of survival. And those who do survive will likely have brain damage.
Plus, he says, there’s the cost of lifeguards versus a body recovery. Benjamin says the average cost per hour for a U.S. Coast Guard response boat is about $4,500. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter can run as high as $16,000 per hour.
Swintek said boats responding from Grand Haven run in the range of $3,000 to $4,800 per hour, depending on the vessel, its equipment and how much fuel it burns. Running a helicopter out of its summer birth in Muskegon (HH-65 Dolphin) costs about $10,000 per hour. If it comes from Traverse City (HH-60 Jayhawk), the cost is about $11,000 per hour.
Hawke said it would be great to have the funds to pay for lifeguards. In absence of that, he noted that the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety is a leader in water rescue training and is often called to help train personnel from other agencies.
Hawke said that all Grand Haven public safety officers are trained in water safety and water rescue. The officers have new rescue suits and equipment purchased in 2017 through a donation from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.
In 2019, Grand Haven State Park and City Beach posted numbered area signs to help get first responders where they are needed more quickly.
A full-time seasonal officer is also assigned to off-road vehicle patrol of the City Beach and state park, Hawke said. The officer carries rescue equipment and responds to rescue calls.
There are also life rings, an emergency phone and camera system reinstalled on the pier since the recent catwalk replacement.
“Hiring full-time lifeguards is a significant, on-going budget commitment which is a challenge for lakeshore communities,” Hawke noted.
Spring Lake village residents won’t see an increase in millage rates in the upcoming fiscal year, despite expectations that state revenue is expected to be cut.
Village Manager Chris Burns said it’s been difficult to plan a budget with so many unknowns, due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are so many ‘what ifs’ on the budget this year,” she said. “Normally, we work on the budget January through June, with a June adoption. Of those six months, one full quarter was COVID-related.”
Instead of the village staff getting together in a meeting room to plan the budget, they did so remotely this year – on the telephone and through virtual video meetings.
“We are kind of at a disadvantage because we don’t know how COVID will affect revenue sharing,” Burns said. “We don’t know if we should assume 10, 20 or 30 percent (reduction). We know there’s going to be a reduction, we just don’t know how much. It’s tough to budget when you don’t know what the impact will be. It’s really been a lot of guessing.”
While every municipality expects to make budget adjustments during the year, those could reach all-time highs during fiscal year 2020-21.
“We’ll probably see more budget adjustments than in years past,” Burns said. “There were some projects we wanted to see done that we didn’t feel we could put in the budget. Nobody can predict a pandemic and how it impacts the money from the state.”
Burns said she’s seen people commenting on social media about the condition of some of the village’s parks. She said she hopes residents can be patient and understanding, realizing it’s hard to budget for projects when you don’t know how much money will actually be available to spend.
“We need folks to understand there are some things that won’t get done because of the fact that we’re in this holding pattern,” Burns explained. “I see on social media that we’re not doing things to people’s standards. We get it. They’re not like we need them to be. There are sacrifices we all need to make, too.”