Swim instructor, PE coach, pool pro Polly Porter retires
Like most kids in the 1960’s, Polly Bland spent her summer afternoons at Metter’s City Pool located on Daniel Street where Southeastern Technical College’s local building is now located.
Honing her skills, Polly became a good swimmer. When she graduated from Metter High School in 1965 and headed to Georgia State College for Women (GSCW), now Georgia College and State University, in Milledgeville, she signed up for a PE class that she knew she would enjoy. That was a swimming class.
In the swimming class at her college, Polly and her classmates completed Red Cross Lifesaving certification and were also certified as WSIs, Water Safety Instructors. The two certifications meant that Polly was able to get a summer job at the same pool where she had been a patron throughout her childhood years. That was a great job after her on-campus job at GSCW – working in the cafeteria.
Polly reminisces about her early days at the pool. She thinks she was about 17 or 18 years old that first summer.
“Dr. Pence was the head of the Recreation Department,” she explains. Polly and the other lifeguards, including Polly’s friend Beverly Dekle, had a great summer supervising swimmers, teaching swimming lessons and taking care of the maintenance of the pool and surrounding deck area.
The pool used chlorine gas which was stored in two big tanks that were adjacent to the pool’s dressing room area.
“It’s a wonder we didn’t blow up the city of Metter,” laughs Polly, adding, “God took care of that pool.”
As she remembers some of the events of that summer and the following ones she spent working at the City Pool, she shares some stories.
One day she sent a young boy to get a bucket of soda to put into the pool. He returned with a bucket filled with white powder, which she assumed to be soda. Polly dumped the powder into the pool. It wasn’t soda.
The rascal has brought a bucket of lime that was used to line the baseball field that used to be where the Jaycee’s playground sits today. That young man was Rex Stanford.
Not every incident Polly remembers was humorous. She recalls that only one time did she have to literally pull someone out of the pool.
The rule for entering the City Pool was that swimmers had to shower in the locker room prior to getting into the water. One very hot summer day a young man rode his bike to the pool. He slipped past the locker room ritual and jumped into the deep end of the pool. When he cramped up and began to sink, Polly put her lifesaving skills to work and pulled him to safety. She says it scared her more than it scared him!
In 1967 and 1968, Polly worked in Savannah where she taught swimming at the YWCA, Young Women’s Christian Association. A difference there was that her swimming students were adults. She found that teaching adults was different from teaching kids.
“Adults in a swim class don’t want to play the cute little games that the kids love,” she relates. According to Polly, it’s not as much fun to teach adults.
On and off over the next few years, Polly worked various jobs and finished her college degree in Physical Education. She spent winters from 1969 to 1972 at Pineland Bank, but her summers were back at the City Pool where she worked her way up to manager.
In 1972, Polly married Robert Porter, and moved with him to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. There she taught swimming on the base. That Red Cross certification earned in college really paid off.
Arriving back in Metter, Polly started her public school teaching career in 1973. She was hired to teach first grade at Collins Elementary School. That was a learning experience for the veteran swim teacher.
The classroom was a totally different environment. Polly laughs that most of the children learned to sit in their desks. She recalls her year spent in first grade fondly.
Being a new teacher and wanting to make a difference in the lives of her students, she remembers how she made felt Christmas stockings for each of the children in the class. It broke her heart when one of her little ones told her that his dad had thrown the gift from his teacher into the fire.
After the year at Collins Elementary, Polly was hired to teach middle school PE at Metter Middle School. Her assignment – girls PE. The girls were instructed in various games and sports, they had skills as well as written tests, and they, of course, got a participation grade. It was great fun for Polly and for the gaggle of girls at MMS.
As PE teacher, Polly also was assigned the role of health teacher. Those same girls who were excited about the activity of the PE curriculum weren’t always as eager to study health.
“With teaching health,” says Polly, “I had to teach sex education.”
In addition to teaching PE and health, Polly was assigned to coach girls’ basketball for MHS. That was fine with her; she always wanted to coach.
“I was the first female basketball coach at MHS,” she states proudly.
She always tried to make sure the basketball players had fun in addition to practicing and playing in games. She took them camping and transported many of the girls to basketball camps where they could improve their skills.
When Polly had been teaching at MMS a few years, her friend Beverly Dekle, by then Beverly Wright, was also hired to teach at the middle school. The former swim teachers were back working together with Metter’s youngsters.
Even when Polly was a busy teacher, she continued to work with swimming and swimmers in Metter.
When her children Howard and MaryAnn Porter were young, she worked with a swim team that represented Metter. The ragtag group competed at swim meets all around the area.
According to Polly, at the end of that summer, Garrett Wilcox, Cale Holloway and Howard advanced to the State Swim Meet. “We looked like country come to town because our boys were the only ones that were not wearing swim team Speedo suits,” she laughs.
During the same time that Polly was coaching Metter’s Swim Team, she made an attempt at introducing synchronized swimming to local kids. She was excited about this because she had been a part of the synchronized swim team at GSCW. Somehow, Metter’s youngsters didn’t see the beauty in the sport that combines swimming, dance and gymnastics.
Finally after 28 years of teaching PE and health, Polly retired from teaching. She didn’t really know what she wanted to do, but Beverly Wright’s husband Larry had a great idea. Polly had spent a couple of summers doing pool maintenance for B&M Pools, Larry and Beverly Wright’s business. Larry’s office manager had quit, so he asked Polly to come on board to run the office.
Polly says, “I told Larry that I did not want to be shut up in an office. He explained that I would only be in the office until he found someone to take the job.”
She agreed to take the job. A plus was that she would be working with Beverly in yet a third work setting.
That was 20 years ago when Larry convinced his friend from first grade to take the job. Polly retired from B&M Pools as office manager just last month. When Polly would ask him about hiring an office manager so that she could work on maintaining pools, he would always tell her that she was irreplaceable.
In those years at B&M Pools, Polly was often helping former students with their pool needs – testing water, selling chemicals and explaining how to care for their pools.
What will Polly be doing now that she has retired? She plans to do some yardwork, travel with her sister Nancy Norton, and spend time with her grandchildren – the children of her son Howard Porter and her daughter MaryAnn Porter. And she’ll get her pool fix at Howard’s home – where B&M Pools recently installed a beautiful in-ground pool.