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Pool to Minority Kids: You Can't Swim Here

A Philadelphia area day camp says a private swim club made racist comments about their campers and then cancelled their swimming privileges.

The swim club says they ran out of room.

Sixty-five mostly minority children from Philadelphia's Creative Steps day camp spent June 29 cooling off at the private Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pa. It's where they were planning to swim every Monday through mid-August.

But the first time they showed up, 11-year-old Marcus Allen says, it was obvious he and the other campers - children in kindergarten through seventh grade - weren't welcomed by some club members.

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"They were saying, like, they didn't want us here, and they were saying that they were afraid we might do something to their children and trash some of their belongings. And they were also saying, like, 'Oh, we don't want these people here and how did they even get here?'"

In fact, Creative Steps had paid the club $1,950 for use of the pool facilities.

Creative Steps camp director (and Marcus' mother) Althea Wright said she was alerted about half an hour into their session. "The children came running down the hill saying, 'Miss Wright, Miss Wright, there are people making remarks saying they don't want those black kids and what are we doing here?'" Wright told CBS "Early Show" anchor Maggie Rodriguez. " I said, 'Who is saying this?' And they pointed towards the top of the hill.

"So I went up to the top, and I started addressing some of the derogatory comments that were made, and [club president John] Duesler was sitting there as well, and he said, 'Althea, Althea, don't worry about it. I'll handle it. I'll handle it.'"

Some club members removed their children from the pool and stood around with their arms folded, according to Wright, who said, "Only three members left their children in the pool with us."

Two days later, Wright received a call from the club's board president saying that the board had changed its mind about allowing the kids to be visit the club.

CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano reports that the camp's nearly two-thousand dollar check was refunded.

"He gave me no reason at all" for the decision, Wright said. But, she added, while they were at the club some of the club members were shouting that "they were going to make sure that we did not return there at all."

Dr. Duesler, the Valley Club president, told Philadelphia TV station WTXF that several club members complained because the children "fundamentally changed the atmosphere" at the pool but that the complaints didn't involve race.

"Unfortunately . . . we underestimated the capacity of our facilities and realized that we could not accommodate the number of children from these camps," Valley Club said in a released statement.

Wright, however, does not accept the reason, and says e-mail exchanges prove the club knew exactly how many children were coming.

This incident is making waves throughout the nation's swimming community.

Cullen Jones, an African American gold medal swimmer heads up Make a Splash, which trains young minority swimmers.

"This is a major setback to see that people are still in the old ways, if you will," Jones said.

On Thursday the pool was closed, its front gate locked. About two dozen protesters, most of them white, held signs and chanted slogans including, "Jim Crow swims here!"

Amy Goldman is a club member and joined because she thought it was so welcoming.

"I'm embarrassed and ashamed that a pool would do this to a group of young kids who were very respectful and well behaved," she told CBS News.

Marcus said the experience gave him very mixed feelings: "I was mad, I was angry, I was upset."

When Rodriguez asked Marcus what he hoped people would learn from their experience, he said, "I hope the lesson will be to teach people that everybody is like the same and that you shouldn't treat people differently just because [of] a difference between you and them. Like you have a different color skin or you look different, that doesn't mean that you're different from them. And that you shouldn't make fun of them."

Wright said Girard College, a boarding school for poor children in first through 12th grades, has offered to host the camp children for the summer.

On Thursday the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission said it will immediately open an investigation into the accusations of racial discrimination at the Valley Club.

"The rule of law in Pennsylvania is equal opportunity for all, regardless of race," chairman Stephen A. Glassman said Thursday in a written statement.

"Allegedly, this group was denied the use of a pool based on their race," Glassman said. "If the allegations prove to be true, this is illegal discrimination in Pennsylvania."

Wright said that some parents are "weighing their options" on legal action.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People requested the Human Relations Commission's investigation.

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., issued a statement calling the allegations "extremely disturbing" and said he was looking into the matter.

Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming, the governing body for the U.S. swim team, was stunned at the accusations.

"This is the sort of thing you'd hear about in 1966, during the height of the civil rights movement, not in 2009, and not in the City of Brotherly Love, of all places," he said.

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