Ray Mitchell sees much talent in Rio Grande Valley swimmers.

That’s why the renowned swimming coach is helping The University of Texas-Pan American start a new aquatics program.

Mitchell, who co-founded the Terrapins Swim Team in California, which has produced numerous national and Olympic trial finalists, is developing a multi-faceted program that will include Learn to Swim lessons for people of all ages and skill levels, a swimming group that will be open to all UTPA students, staff and faculty and a year-round youth competitive swim team.

Jeanette Broshears, UTPA’s associate dean of students, said several factors led to the formation of the aquatics program. There were students at the University who swam competitively in high school and wanted to continue their love of the sport through a club.

Plus, Mitchell recently relocated to the Rio Grande Valley with his wife Cindy, a Valley native, and was asked by people in the community if he could teach private swimming lessons. Seeing there was an interest for a swimming program, he contacted the University to see if he could run some part-time clinics.

The aquatics program gives The University of Texas-Pan American the opportunity to reach people who it normally wouldn’t be able to and showcase what the University has to offer, she said.

“It gives students the opportunity to consider us,” Broshears said. “I’m excited about what the potential is going to be.”

The University is kicking off its aquatics program this summer with the Learn to Swim classes, which are broken into two courses: WaterBaby and Learn to Swim.

Classes began June 7 and run through Aug. 19 at the UTPA Wellness and Recreational Sports Complex (WRSC) and involve five two-week sessions. The lessons are taught in small groups.

Mitchell brought in Karen Rice, one of his coaches from the Terrapins Swim Team who specializes in training youth, to head up the Learn to Swim program.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for the Rio Grande Valley,” Rice said. “There is no possible way it will not work. There is an absolute need for an aquatics program here.”

Rice also said she is looking forward to working with Mitchell on building the aquatics program here.

“What Ray Mitchell is bringing here are his accolades with his commitment, skill and brilliance. He marries the science and the art of swimming to offer a creative plan,” she said.

Mitchell and Rice said a big part of swimming lessons is to promote water safety.

“The Learn to Swim program is really the foundation for developing any substantial swim program. We need to get the young Valley kids water safe. The state of Texas did a recent study on preventable drowning and came to some startling realizations. Basically not enough kids are taking part in water safety programs and it is creating a dangerous situation,” Mitchell said.

The WaterBaby course allows parents and their children from 3 months to 3 years old to develop swimming skills while playing games and teaching children breath control and navigation of short distances. Tuition is $55 per session for the general public, $50 for those who are not members of the WRSC and $45 for WRSC members.

The Learn to Swim program is geared for anyone ages 3 and older. Classes are split up by age and skill level. Classes cost $70 for the general public, $65 for those who are not members of the center and $60 for center members.

Registration for these classes is 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday at the front desk of the UTPA WRSC on the corner of Sugar Road and Schunior Street.

Mitchell began running clinics — which are training sessions for swimmers — earlier this year for youth interested in competing.

“I see kids everyday in this pool who are just as naturally talented as my swimmers in California,” he said.

The swimming club and youth competitive swimming programs will officially start in the fall. But swimmers of all skill levels are invited to join throughout the year. Currently there are about 60 children on the competitive team, he said.

For more information about the UTPA Aquatics program, call 956-292-7818 or visit http://www.utpa.edu/wellness.