It doesn’t take long once someone steps in to the UTRGV and City of Pharr Natatorium to realize its potential. It’s more than a game-changer.
“It’s a stunning and incredible facility,” UTRGV Vice President and Director of Athletics Chasse Conque said. “To see it in its almost finished state is impressive. What a facility for our region. It’s going to help athletes all across the Rio Grande Valley.
UTRGV students passed a referendum Nov. 11 that will increase the athletic fee for students by $11.25 per credit hour, up to 12 hours. It also allows for the expansion or addition of a spirit program on both campuses, a Division I women’s swimming and diving program and marching bands on both campuses.
The final step in approving those programs will be when the board of regents looks at them in early 2022.
“We will move quickly after that,” Conque said. “Ideally, this is going to be a space where we will be able to train and compete. We’ll be looking to hire a coach in 2023 to be able to compete in 2024.”
The state-of-the-art facility will accommodate 1,500 spectators, holds an Olympic/NCAA size pool, diving boards, showers, locker rooms and will be open to the public. Officials said most of the work is done and the cleanup should be completed at the end of December, and open to the public sometime in January.
UTRGV also plans to construct a sports medicine institute adjacent to the new facility in Pharr. The new building will give medical students the opportunity to practice, learn and work with the community to provide sports medicine therapy and care.
While UTRGV still has a couple years before WAC competition begins, the pool will still be used locally. All four PSJA school district swim teams will call it home. There are also eight coaches offices to be divided between UTRGV and PSJA ISD.
“It’s going to create a lot of excitement and exposure to kids that never even thought of swimming before,” PSJA ISD Aquatics Director Jonathan Landero said. “Having a DI program is going to give a lot of legitimacy to aquatics in general. I foresee a big boom in participation. One, because of the program and two because of the facility being built. It’s going to attract a lot of attention.”
The WAC Swimming and Diving Championships are held each year in Houston, which doesn’t have a team from the conference. UTRGV officials said they could see the possibility of hosting a WAC championship even before the team is ready to go.
“This is a huge piece and a good next step for us, but we are certainly not done,” Conque said. “We will continue our conversations about looking forward and ahead to 2025, 2030, 2035 and look at the Division I programs and see what makes sense. This gives us the possibility to host not just home meets but to host championships.
“We showed the WAC renderings and pictures and videos of the facility and they are excited. It is a great facility to host championships.”
Women’s teams that will be competing in the WAC Swimming and Diving Championship in February include California Baptist, Dixie State, Grand Canyon, Idaho, New Mexico State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado and Seattle U.
Landero said the impact will be felt immediately all across the Rio Grande Valley.
“It’s going to create a lot of excitement. Also, the programming that is going to come out of this facility is what I think the Valley needed to take aquatics to the next level,” said Landero, who was the PSJA swim coach for all four schools from 2013-2017. “We’ve always had talent down here, but it is very fragmented. We don’t see competition in the pool on a daily basis. They only see each other at meets or things of that sort.”
PSJA’s aquatics director also pointed to increasing the level of competition among swimmers unaccustomed to competing outside their metro areas, offering daily exposure which would help improve each athletes’ abilities.
The natatorium will also be home to youth programs.
“I swam at the youth level, nothing more, but as a father of three daughters I’m excited our youth will have access to this facility. It’s a great marriage between our program and the youth.”
Pharr will be the hub of aquatics in the Valley, Landero said.
“My intent is to promote these programs to the full extent. Not just swimming and diving, but water polo as well,” he said. “With water polo joining UIL in 2022, I think this gives us the opportunity to be successful in this sport early in the game. There aren’t going to be too many programs early on. If we get a head start, it’s going to change the landscape of things.
“I feel like big things are coming. Things are going to change.”