Oh, What a Beautiful Refereed Game - Oh, What a Beautiful Game!

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University
11/15/04

Several week ends ago I got the chance to watch a very critical game in a Southern Varsity Tournament. At that time it was the game for first place in the Western Region, Southern Division, between Slippery Rock University and Gannon University. Mark Koganov was the Head referee and he made a decision that the game's outcome would not be put in jeopardy because of a referee's miss-call of a two meter player's shot in the shallow end of the pool - if he was on the bottom of the pool, no goal or if he wasn't on the bottom, goal?. Anyone that has every played or coached in a shallow to deep pool knows that, many times,trying to determine if a two meter player was on the bottom during a shot, is similar to person trying to determine the points on a die in a crap shoot.

Before the game Mark told the captains that in the deep end the rules would be the same as usual; however, in the shallow end there would be a much faster whistle for two meter fouls. When I heard that I thought that I had died and gone to heaven because a quick whistle to me meant that all the players would be able to take part in the win or loss. Finally a chance to watch and help coach a dynamic water polo game again. Well maybe not a whole dynamic game but at least a half of one. You know what they say a half loaf is better than no loaf at all.

Guess what - the game was even more exciting than I anticipated. The two meter player became a finesse quarterback instead of a "three yards and a cloud of dust" fullback. A two meter person's passes became as important as the two meter player's shots, and guess what - there was a plethora of drives, picks, and screens from all the offensive players. Yes, Drives, Picks, and Screens - Oh my; and Drive defenses, Screen defenses, and Pick defenses - Oh my. I was tempted to call a time out to see if the bricks on the bottom of the pool were yellow. All that motion and all those players involved in both the offense and the defense of the game, to me, that's what this beautiful game was meant to be - a show case of individual and team smarts, quickness, agility, and skills. I was so excited that if Mark would have been a female referee I would have run down the deck and kissed him on the lips. You didn't have to buy no stinking book about "Profiles in Courage" because on the deck was courage personified not a knight in shining armor who rode a white horse but a referee in white shirt and pants who put the players and the game before some non-defensible rule. By the way did I mention that Slippery Rock loss the game? Never once did that hard loss diminish in my mind's eye how exciting that game in the shallow water was to see and help coach, and there is no person in the entire Cosmos that hates to lose more than I do.

Now, let's contrast this exciting game in the shallow end with what was happening in the business as usual deep end. First you watch the two meter person and the two meter defender wrestle their way to the two meters. Next, you watch the person on the perimeter try to draw a foul for a free pass into two meters, and you note that many times on the perimeter that if there is no blood there is no foul. If there is a drop on the two meter player you watch the perimeter players try to pass the ball around for a shot on goal. If there is no drop, the ball is thrown into the two meter player, and you watch the two meter player wrestle for a shot or an ejection. Finally, the whistle sounds indicating an ordinary foul at two meters. If the driver hasn't fallen a sleep because of watching the two meter wrestling match, that person drives for inside water or a rear back shot. Boring; Boring; Boring. By this time in the shall end of the pool there would have been three drives, a couple of picks and maybe even a screen, an ejection, and possibly two shots on goal.

The choice is simple. Do you want a game in which most of the offensive and defensive players are in perpetual motion causing plays to happen, or do want a game similar to baseball where much of the time, most of the players, wait, wait, and wait for plays to happen? I hate to tell you folks but baseball is no longer the national pastime, but today the NCAA's basketball tournament is. A quicker whistle at two meters means a quicker game, and a quicker game means a more exciting game for players, coaches, referees, and spectators. This can easily translate into more and more of our youth wanting to play a beautiful game of water polo.

Email Coach Hunkler at rhunkler@waterpoloplanet.com