Michael Tapscott has had it.
Last Friday, Tapscott, 25, finally threw in his beach towel. Feeling beaten and nursing a pulled stomach muscle he said he feared would turn into a hernia because of job-related stress, he resigned in disgust as manager and head lifeguard at Alexandria's Cameron Street public swimming pool.
"You know, I've never quit a job before because it got to be too much," said Tapscott wearily. "This is the first time I've had to say, 'This is ridiculous.'"
Tapscott is the latest casualty in Alexandria's war against vandalism and rowdyism at its seven public swimming pools. It's never been easy, discipling the hundreds of youngsters who turn out each day to refresh themselves in chlorinated abandon. But in the last two years, city officials say, things have gotten out of control.
Two weeks before Tapscott resigned, what staff members called a "riot" broke out at the Cameron Street pool between lifeguards and a few pool patrons. One staff person was hit in the face. Another suffered a concussion.
On Sunday, another pool was broken into three times, vandals either cutting their way through wire fences or removing whole sections of chain link.At some pools, verbal abuse and physical attacks are commonplace.
Officials are at a loss how to stop it. "I don't know what else we can do," says Joseph Hensly, recreation department director.
But the attacks and abuse aren't why Tapscott resigned. "I really like the kids, and I like the neighborhood," he says. It's the city's system for administering the pools that has his ire up. "It just isn't working," says Tapscott, who's been policing poolsides for nine years.
This summer Tapscott was told to begin enforcing a 50-cent admission fee at the pool, where admission in the past has been free. Intended to curb discipline problems there, it has, says Tapscott, merely led to a new rash of hostility.
The fee system came into being a year ago at a pool several blocks away in the Warwick section of the city's west end. Warwick residents had offered to pay for use of the pool, both to help convince city officials to spend $200,000 renovating it, and to "keep the undesirable elements under control," says City Manager Douglas Harman.
When the renovated pool opened last year, Warwick residents began paying 50 cents for children and $1 for adults to keep cool.
But the city "couldn't have one free pool while people were paying to get into the other one," said Harman.
This summer, it was the Cameron area's turn.
"There's no question that if you charge for something, you're going to have a little more control," said hensley.
Not so, says Tapscott. "Our biggest problem is, kids come in here and say, 'I paid my 50 cents. Now I can do whatever I want.'"
Rowdyism has not only continued at Cameron Street pool, in some ways it has gotten worse.
"The older kids would just push right past the cashier," Tapscott said. "And some of them aren't kids. Those are big dudes."
Joseph Vinci, the recreation department's chief of sports, said the scene at Cameron on Sunday "reminded me of the Almo. There were people coming over the fences, over walls and over the top of the building. One guy even climbed over barbed wire."
Tapscott did not always risks confrontation with bigger freeloaders. But then the (recreation department) was always coming around asking 'How come we're not making any money at this pool?'"
Two weeks ago, 35 to 50 persons joined a donnybrook that began when guards tried to clear the pool and some swimmers tried to make off with the day's receipts.
Several staffers were beaten. One cashier has been transferred to another pool because her parents wouldn't let her return to Cameron, Vinci said.
Shortly afterward, the recreation department installed a security guard -- with nightstick -- at the pool entrance.He is paid $6.50 an hour, four hours per day, seven days a week -- or $182 a week -- to help guarantee about $100 in daily receipts.
"I've been a lifeguard since I was 16 and I've never seen a pool with a security guard," Tapscott said. "It just doesn't seem to fit."
Two days before Tapscott quit, someone stole the cash register.