History Detective

Table of Contents

  Peering Into Polo's Past  

Article II

Manager of US Team &
Tribute to Bob Helmick

Andy Burke

Andy Burke

Gang is All Here

Abe Fuchs, Andy Burke & John Felix (in referee stripes) at 1966 Nationals

In concluding my last article, I discussed the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where I served as Manager of the U.S. men’s team. One of the important things that came from that event actually was started in early 1964. As Chairman of the AAU Water Polo Committee, I wrote to several of the major European Water Polo Federations (Hungary, Germany, Italy, and Yugoslavia), asking if they would be interested in coming to the United States after the Olympics to play in exhibitions against our top club teams here.

I received a letter from Ante Lambasa, President of the Yugoslavia Federation, ex-pressing an interest. Ante later became a member of the FINA Bureau and served as President of FINA from 1981 to 1984.

In 1964, after many, many exchanges of letters, it was agreed that they would come here to play in northern and southern California and New York City. One of the reasons we were able to accomplish this was that by working with them, we were able to change their air line tickets from Belgrade to Tokyo and return (to Belgrade) to a complete round-the-world ticket for just an additional $100.00 per person. So for $1,500.00 (11 players plus their coaching staff), we were able to bring them here. Yugoslavia was the silver medalist from Tokyo and had several of the major players in water polo (Mirko Sandic, Ozren Bonacic, Ivo Trumbic, and an outstanding Goalie in Galli Muscatiovic), so exposing our players and the public to this team was a big step forward for us.

leather water polo ball Another story I should tell from 1964 had to do with the water polo balls. As I said previously, the heavy leather ball was still the official ball of FINA. In the U.S., we were using the new Voit ball, which was manufactured by the 3M Company. Voit shipped 24 balls to me in Tokyo, and I took them around and gave them to the coaches of each team, asking them to try the Voit balls in hopes we could get FINA to switch to the synthetic balls rather than the leather balls. I remember the Dutch coach telling me, “I played with a leather ball, my father played with a leather ball, and my son will play with a leather ball.” I marveled at his forward (backward) thinking, but told him to please try the Voit balls. We did finally get the synthetic-type ball approved, and it was used in the 1968 Olympic Games, but the ironic thing is that the official FINA ball today, Mikasa, is manufactured in Japan.

The years 1965 and 1966 began a change in the power in U.S. water polo. The older clubs – New York AC, Illinois AC, and San Francisco Olympic Club –were still present, but several new California clubs began to emerge. These included the Foothill Aquatic Club, coached by Art Lambert; Inland-Nu Pike, coached by Monte Nitzkowski and Bob Horn; Newport Water Polo Club, coached by Ted Newland; and later the Concord Swim and Water Polo Club, coached by Pete Cutino. These teams would dominate play as we approached the 1968 Olympics. Money was still scarce, so instead of trying to get more European teams here, we concentrated on inviting the top European international referees to our National Championships so they would be exposed to our players, just as they saw the top European players when they refereed at LEN (League of European Nations) tournaments. Some who came at various times were Abe Fuchs from Belgium, Josef Dirnweber from Austria, Mateo Manguillot from Spain, Alfonse Angella from France and Cornel Marculescu from Romania. Cornel is currently Executive Director of FINA. In 1967, at the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, Canada, we still had two members of our team from the 1964 Olympics (Goalie Tony Van Dorp and Dave Ashleigh). The other players were primarily from Foothill AC and Inland-Nu Pike, and the coaches were Art Lambert, Monte Nitzkowski, and Bob Horn. The team recorded 5 wins in the round-robin schedule and brought home the gold medal.

Another interesting story is that in the mid 1970s, we were able to get FINA to accept the ear guards that are standard now on all caps. Ear guards had been designated as “something likely to cause injury” by FINA and were not allowed, although we’d used them extensively in the U.S. The funny part is that ear guards were originally invented because of an injury. About 1966-67, Greg Hind, who played for Foothill AC and was a member of the 1967 Pan-Am Team, had suffered a ruptured ear drum, a very common water polo injury at that time. His father, President of Barnes-Hind Pharmaceuticals, developed the ear guard to protect Greg’s ear so he could continue playing. Realizing that it not only helped prevent further injury to Greg but could also possibly prevent in-juries to other players, Mr. Hind began manufacturing the ear guards that now are standard for all water polo caps, and Greg went on to start Hind-Wells, a company selling aquatic equipment, including the ear guards

USA vs, Brazil

USA v. Bazil

In 1968, our Pan-Am team from 1967 formed the nucleus of the Olympic Team (8 of the 11 players), to which were added Olympians Ron Crawford and Stan Cole, along with coaches Art Lambert and Monte Nitzkowski. The team prepared for the high-altitude competition in Mexico City by holding its final training camp at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

At Mexico City, most of the games were played at the university pool, adjacent to the main stadium where track and field was held, with one match being held in the main pool following swimming. The team finished in fifth place in one of the strongest fields of teams in Olympic history. Yugoslavia won the gold medal, defeating Russia 13-11 in overtime. The U.S. defeated East Germany 6-4 to take fifth. Following these Games, the East Germans abandoned all team sports (at that time) and opted to put their athletes into individual competitions in an effort to win more medals. Of course, we know now how they “developed” these individual athletes. Editor’s Note: the East Germans were suspected of giving steroids and other illegal drugs to their athletes, which was later proven to be true).

1968 Olympic Team

1968 Olympic Team

I was working as a desk official for the Mexican Federation at the 1968 Games, and John Felix, who was one of our two U.S. referees, told me how the refs working the Games had met and had started the AIA (Association of International Referees for Water Polo). On my return home, I joined the AIA and remained a member for many years thereafter.

One other thing I remember about this time period was that the rules stated that when a team had committed six major fouls, then the other team was awarded a penalty throw. In one game when we were playing Russia, it was very close. We had 5 major fouls against us. A foul was called on the perimeter of the pool. There were 3 Russians in the vicinity. None went for the ball. They all drove toward the hole and left the ball floating there. The referee (there was only one at this time) called another foul on the U.S. and the Russians were awarded a penalty throw. The ball was still floating in the area where the first foul occurred, and I am still puzzled as to how you can have a foul when no one had attempted to put the ball in to play….?

Bob HelmickIn the late 1960s, a new face appeared on the national water polo scene. He was Robert (Bob) Helmick from Des Moines, Iowa. Editor’s Note: see separate AWP article about Mr. Helmick. Bob had been on the scene for the last couple of years, but at this time he rose into a leadership position, becoming Chairman of the U.S. Olympic Water Polo Committee. At 6-3, with broad shoulders and a winning smile, Bob was a commanding figure and was one of the most intelligent persons I have ever met. He became not only Chairman of the U.S. Olympic Water Polo Committee but also Team Leader and Manager of our team for the 1972 Olympic Games.

On the domestic end, Bob went on to become President of the AAU and President of the U.S. Olympic Committee. On the international scene, he was selected to the FINA Water Polo Committee in 1972, the FINA Bureau in 1976, and became FINA President in 1984. He was also selected to serve on the International Olympic Committee. Bob’s contributions to ALL sports are without parallel. He was a tremendous help to water polo in its growth during his tenure as President of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which he turned into a profitable organization while assisting ALL sports in attaining a higher level of proficiency. It was a pleasure to know and work with Bob over the years.

This article was first posted on the American Water Polo web site
and they graciously allowed the Water Polo Planet to re-post it.