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PORTAGE | Hannah Brown, 15, watched as safety officials described the difference between a drowning as portrayed by Hollywood on television, and what a real drowning looks like, all the while envisioning horrible scenes from last summer when one of her closest friends drowned in the waters of Lake Michigan.

"I was at the beach the same day Corey McFry died from the current, almost a year ago. I’ve known him since first grade and we were close. Hearing about water safety today brings back memories, but it’s helpful and I learned a lot,” said Brown who attended a program at Portage High School sponsored by the Great Lakes Surf & Rescue Project (GLSRP), Portage Parks Department, Portage Fire Department, U.S. Coast Guard, and Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Some 80 kids from the Portage YMCA and South Haven Boys & Girls Club heard about how to spot a person in distress in the water, what to do to assist them and how to not get in danger themselves when enjoying a day at the beach or pool.

“If you follow these two rules you’ll be safer,” said Bob Pratt, executive director of education for the GLSRP. “And first is don’t panic because can you think straight when you’re panicked? No. The second is don’t do anything stupid,” as he showed photos of kids flipping headfirst off the edge of a pier.

Speaking in a gymnasium filled with water safety equipment, Pratt told the group about the dangers the more deadly rip currents which run away from the beach.

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“You need to understand how the lake works and the dangers at the lake. Whenever possible, always swim where there is a lifeguard and take something that floats with you. If you’re not a very good swimmer you should wear a life jacket to the beach,” he said.

Taking the group into the school’s pool area, Pratt and volunteers demonstrated safety procedures, including one important one he drilled over and over.

“Flip, float and follow. If you get into trouble you want to flip over on your back, float and relax to save energy and follow the current to where it takes you until you can get help,” he said.

For the members of the South Haven Boys & Girls Club, that message hit home.

“Corey was one of our members and he went too far out and couldn’t get back. It was quite devastating on the club when he died. I think this program will impact the kids on what they need to do to stop it from happening again,” said Kristen Baker, staff member with the club.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.