James Jones part of YMCA's water safety event

Children getting swim lessons at a YMCA summer camp is a normal occurrence.

Getting personal instruction from a Miami Heat player? Not so much.

James Jones recently jumped into the water alongside children at the YMCA Aquatic Center in Pembroke Pines as part of a partnership to promote water safety in South Florida. According to the YMCA, drowning is the leading cause of death in Florida for children ages 1 to 4. South Florida led the state with 41 drownings in Miami-Dade and 61 in Broward in 2010. Broward had eight drowning deaths in 2011.

Many children are exposed to water by their parents but don't receive specialized instruction, said Sheryl Woods, president and CEO of the YMCA of Broward County.

"Parent teaching is great, but formal instruction is better," she said. "There are lots of other safety components than just swimming lessons."

Jones said water safety is important to him since he has children of his own. He's participated at past water safety events on behalf of the Heat.

"I don't want to be one of those parents who hears tragic news about their children," Jones said.

Jones joined several YMCA instructors who were working with children ages 6 to 13. Instructors taught children how to jump off a diving board, as well as how to swim with a paddle board. Older children practiced jumping off a starting block, while Jones helped younger children with floating and practicing their backstroke.

"These kids are sponges. They listen," Jones said. "Their eyes light up when they see someone cares about them."

Swimming safety is nothing new for Heat courtside TV reporter and host Jason Jackson, who grew up as a water safety instructor. Jackson also has participated in multiple water safety events.

"This is where you can make a difference," said Jackson, who also hosts a weekday sports radio show. "These kids have an open mind."

The water safety event marked the YMCA's second time working with the Heat, Woods said. About 17,000 to 18,000 children learn annually how to swim through the Broward YMCA's swimming programs. The event's other partners included the American Red Cross and Florida Blue.

Aside from water safety, Florida Blue also encourages swimming for exercise, said Penny Shaffer, president of the company's South Florida market.

"It's how you build a healthy community," Shaffer said. "You can't get better partners than the Heat, the YMCA and the Red Cross."

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