watermelon swim school water safety with Shaq Barrett group photo

Watermelon Swim and Shaq Barrett team up to offer swim lessons to more kids in Tampa Bay

Drowning. You never think it’s going to happen to you. You might think of it as a story you hear on the news or read about. And while your heart breaks for the family, you probably say, “That will never happen to me because we’re too careful.”

Don’t be too quick to judge or assume. It takes only 20 seconds for a child to slip underwater and drown, according to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner—20 seconds. And it can happen to anybody.

As we recognize Water Safety Month this May, Watermelon Swim is sharing more about the importance of swim lessons and a new partnership to provide those lessons to even more children in Tampa Bay.


Last year in Hillsborough County alone, nine children died as a result of drowning, according to the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. All were ages 2 and younger.

Among those precious babies lost too soon was 2-year-old Arrayah Barrett, the light of her family’s eyes. She drowned in her home swimming pool on April 30, leaving her family shattered.

Arrayah Barrett, Arrayah Hope Foundation
Arrayah Barrett was 2 years old when she drowned in her family’s swimming pool. Her family recently established the Arrayah Hope Foundation to keep her name alive and provide free and affordable swim lessons to children in our community.

Her dad, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Shaq Barrett (now with the Miami Dolphins) says they had all of the barriers in place and, like most of us, never thought this kind of tragedy would hit home—until it did.

“We just got a little too comfortable, and that one night is all it takes,” Barrett says. “So, you guys always gotta remember like every day it could possibly be that day. And it sucks to have to think about that all the time because you don’t wanna have to live like that or feel like you live in that fear. But you need to have that fear in your life at all times, like no, I don’t want this to happen. I don’t want this to be my kids, my family.”

Healing through the Gift of Hope

Barrett recently launched the Arrayah Hope Foundation to provide swim lessons to local children with the help of Watermelon Swim, which has been teaching kids how to swim for the last 40 years in Tampa Bay.

watermelon swim school water safety book with Shaq Barrett
Shaq Barrett reads a water safety book to kids and parents at Watermelon Swim in Lutz.

“It is a very crucial day for our family, for the Foundation, to partner with such an amazing program,” Barrett says. “I do not want my daughter’s name to die with her. I want her to live on and bring honor to her because she was one of the best things to happen to me and my family. Whatever I can do to bring light and hope to her name and help and uplift people in the community is something we strive to do and love to do.”

He urges parents to never let their guard down. As children learned life-saving skills in the indoor pool at Watermelon Swim, Barrett shared his story with local parents on the other side of the glass.

“We had all of the precautions up as well. We started to get comfortable after a year or two. We had door alarms, but … every time the kids would open the door, we got tired of it going off, so we turned it off. We had a gate, but the night before we were in the hot tub and we accidentally left the gate open.”

He added. “Always think it can be your kid, don’t ever rest or relax with that. Whatever you do, just make sure you don’t get comfortable.”

watermelon swim school water safety swim lessons
Swim lessons at Watermelon Swim.

The Importance of Teaching Water Safety

Micha Seal, owner of Watermelon Swim, says Shaq’s story isn’t uncommon among families of young drowning victims. “Drowning doesn’t look like it does in the movies. It’s seconds, and it’s silent. Everybody thinks that it won’t happen to you, that you are the perfect parent, and you’ve done all the things, but Shaq Barrett proved that wrong, right? He thought he had all the precautions, and it was just one mistake. Life is not perfect and life is not predictable and neither is drowning. And so we must do everything we can to bring awareness to this terrible tragedy.”

Seal says that in addition to barriers like alarms, pool fences, and learning CPR/First Aid, teaching your babies how to swim adds another crucial layer of life-saving protection. Her partnership with the Barrett family’s Arrayah Hope Foundation will ensure even more children get access to free and affordable swim lessons.

“When Shaq Barrett’s team approached us about doing water safety in a partnership, it was a no-brainer for me. We are about teaching more children how to swim and become safer around water. The fact that he is trying to turn this tragedy into a positive is extremely brave and it only benefits the children,” she said.

And you can’t start soon enough.

“We start a Water Babies program as soon as the infant’s umbilical cord falls off, so we believe in getting them in as soon as possible. And actually, that class is free up until the child is six months old. And then at six months, we have Parent Tot classes; we have beginner classes for children that are 18 months and up. And then, we also teach adults because it’s very important that adults know how to swim as well.”

Watermelon Swim has grown from teaching nine kids in a backyard swimming pool 40 years ago to four locations in Tampa Bay teaching at least 7,000 kids per week. And they’re growing, with Seal adding three new Watermelon Swim locations in Brooksville, Zephyrhills, and Brandon.

“The more awareness we can bring to the importance of teaching your children to swim, getting trained in CPR/First Aid, putting the barriers around your pool, and having supervision at all times—I think that’s what Barrett and Watermelon Swim are trying to do together,” Seal says.

watermelon swim school water safety Growing Tree Academy
Shaq Barrett and Watermelon Swim at The Growing Tree Academy

Honoring Arrayah Barrett

On the day he announced the partnership, Barrett spent the morning with local kids. He read them a book about water safety and even watched their swimming lessons in action as they learned the skills to stay afloat should they accidentally fall into the water.

Knowing his daughter’s memory will live on through important lessons like this gives him hope for other families.

“She just was everything. She was so loved and I know she felt all that love and we most definitely miss her and we will miss her every day. She’s watching over us, making sure we stay on our right path, and she’s helping God to guide us and help with bringing our new baby girl to the world as well. We still wish she was here. We’re gonna take every step possible to help avoid this [tragedy] for any other families.”

Learn more: watermelonswim.com

*Presented by Watermelon Swim | Originally published in the May 2024 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.