More Water Polo Travels with Doc

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Slippery Rock University

Since a number of hits were recorded for my first travel article, I thought a second and maybe even a third article might be warranted. One of the great things about multi-media is that a person can choose to pay attention to it or ignore it. If there is a movie on a DVD you don't like then you don't have to watch it. If there is a song on your CD that you don't like then you don't have to listen to it. Finally, if there is an article on a web site or a message posted on a bulletin board that you don't like then you don't have to read it!

College Days

Traveling on water polo trips with the Texas A&M team and Coach Adamson was always an adventure because you never knew what to expect. When I was a freshman there was a sophomore on the team from Nacogdoches, Texas whose first name was Carl. He had very small hands, in fact his fingers were so short it appeared as though the first joint of each finger was missing, and in spite of his hand size he had a water polo shot so hard that it made goalies cry and goal nets of string wish they were made of canvas.  Carl's hand was so small he never attempted to grip the ball or pick it up from on top. He picked the ball up from underneath and did all his handling of the ball by balancing it on the palm of his hand. A very good ball handling water polo fundamental that should be learned by the young and those of us with small hands.

What Carl lacked in finger length he made up in smarts and creativity. He was and is an outstanding Architect. He also had a devious streak in him the size of one of those California highways that runs in and out of Los Angeles. At lunch on one of our out of town trips all the team but Carl and another player were seated at a large table. Since the table was not large enough to seat the entire team Carl and the other player volunteered to sit in a booth across from the table.  When we were seated the restaurant manager was in the back of the restaurant and he did not know that Carl and the other player were a part of our team.

Carl and the other player's lunch were served first, and the entire time they were eating they were glancing around the room and ducking their heads when the manger would look at them. As soon as they finished eating they bolted out of the booth and ran out the front door of the restaurant with the manager running after them. Did I tell you that both of these players were very fast runners? When the manager returned red in the face and completely winded, Coach had to walk up to him and tell him that those two boys were with the team and that he was paying for their lunch.

Carl and the other player were both starters and had to sit out the first half of our game, which almost caused us to lose the game. The other player with Carl was our starting goalie and his first name was Bruce. Like many goalies Bruce did his eggbeating to the sound of a different drummer. He was an excellent goalie but somewhat of a blow-hard because no matter what any one on the team had done, Bruce had done it longer, faster, or better. Bruce also thought during his junior year that he was the greatest hypnotist in the world - thanks to the likes of two juniors, my roommate and good friend Norman Ufer and I. We both pretended that Bruce could hypnotize us, and that he could control us when we were hypnotized. In fact everyone on the entire dorm floor but Bruce was in on the hypnotizing joke.

Bruce was a Psychology major and was learning about hypnotism in his class. He convinced his professor that he could hypnotize people as fast as a magician could pull a rabbit out of a hat. The professor decided to let Bruce show the class how someone could be hypnotized, and after Bruce was unable to hypnotize the fourth student in the class the professor told him to sit down. Bruce related the story to Norman and me and told us that we had to go to the professor's office so he could prove that he could hypnotize people. We told Bruce that it was all a big joke and that we had faked being hypnotized, but he wouldn't believe it until a  Captain on the team who was a Senior told him the same thing. At that time A&M was mostly an all military college, and thank the military gods Bruce was also a Junior and not a Senior or we would have been given enough demerits to walk punishment on the bull ring for three life times.   

Men's Water Polo

I had a freshman from Pittsburgh named Rocky who on a recruitment trip to Bucknell University lived in a player's clothes closet for a week? He must not have liked the closet because he enrolled at Slippery Rock. It turns out Rocky didn't like the dormitories at Slippery Rock either, so he had me ask a colleague friend of mine if it would be all right for him to camp out on my friend's creek property. My friend asked me if he was going to live in trailer because Slippery Rock has cold winters, and I said, "No". Then my friends ask me if Rocky was going to live in a ventilated tent with a portable stove, and again I said, "No". Finally, I told him that Rocky was going to live in an authentic teepee. My friend said, "This I have got to see!", and he gave Rocky permission to live in a teepee on a part of his creek property. Thus, Rocky lived a semester and a half in a teepee on the Slippery Rock creek. He would probably still be living there if someone hadn't stolen his teepee over the summer months. My friend swears it wasn't him who stole the teepee.

His junior and senior year Rocky lived in a bread truck that he converted into a kind of RV - the kind with no water or gas hook-up and the kind with a large can for a portable-potty. He played when the 2-meter defender fouled the 2-meter player twice in succession and then switched. If he were playing the 2-meter defender position today he would probably be one of the finest 2-meter defenders in the country. At 170 lbs he was stronger than a 300 lb nose tackle in the NFL, and never lifted weights. But he got a job every summer carrying and laying bricks. By the way, he earned his degree in Environmental Science.

Another quick story about one of my male water polo players. I had a 2-meter Player named Rob who was about 6 foot 4 to 5 inches tall and weighed over 200 pounds. He had very good ball skills but he was not very aggressive. In fact his nickname was "Muffin", so that has to tell you something about his aggressive nature. He was from California and he traveled all over the campus and the town by skateboard. His heart was as large as USC's fifty meter swimming pool, and his good deeds were more numerous than the number of laps swam in this pool.

His senior year in the off season he had a little too much to drink, and to make a long story short I had to go pick him up at the Police station at three in the morning. One of the policemen that I knew well told me that Rob was spotted in the middle of main street carrying his skateboard and walking somewhat erratically. The policeman in his car turned on his flashing lights and "Muffin" tried to out run him on his skateboard.

Women's Water Polo

Back in the days when anorexia and bulimia were not household words and when neither of these diseases disrupted and/or destroyed the lives of so many wonderful young women, I had a goalie named Diane who played for the US Women's National Team and who had bulimia. I had no idea that she had the disease that today they call bulimia. No one on our team knew there was such a devastating disease as this because all we knew was that when we were on a water polo trip Dianne would throw up after every meal she ate. Consequently, what I did, which can not be found in any medical book on the disease and thank God it worked, was to assign players to shadow Diane where ever she went including the women's restroom. She was never to be left alone, and you know what she stopped throwing up after every meal.

She was a three time All American for Slippery Rock University, and today she is the mother of three sons and a high school teacher and coach of several sports. Please do not try this remedy to treat a player with this very serious disease because today a lot more is known about the disease and it has been shown that in almost every instance medical help is needed to cure anorexia and/or bulimia!

In those days I was a stickler for reducing the percentage of body fat on my female players. I think at that time I was using skin calipers to measure the amount of body fat, because at that time there was a preponderance of research that indicated that a female athlete with small amounts body fat performed much better. Too bad the research didn't also discuss the possible side effects of anorexia and bulimia. Three years almost to the day we discovered Diane's secret I had my second player with bulimia. We got professional help for this player, and I immediately threw the calipers to measure body fat into a garbage can because there is no water polo game in the world worth just one female athlete's life.

A coach at Ball High in Galveston, Texas wrote me a letter that said he had a tall girl that he thought would make me an excellent goalie, but that she would need some help getting into college. I helped get her into Slippery Rock, and when she got in the goal for her first practice the only kick she could do was the scissor-kick.

We taught her how to do the eggbeater, and the first few weeks I had some of my best players and hardest shooters on the men's team come before practice and shoot on her. Finally, one day she came to me and asked if we were going to play only men's teams, I told her no and she then asked me if she could practice blocking women's shots on goal since the timing and speed of men and women's shots were different. I may have taught her the correct kick but she taught me a valuable lesson on how to train female goalies to block shots.

Her name was Mara Battle and she became not only an All American goalie for the Rock but she also lived up to her last name because every game became a battle between her and the opposing team shooters. With her in the goal, the Rock and Mara's converted scissor-kick we beat a great many paper tiger water polo teams from California.


When I started the women's water polo team at Slippery Rock I was the first male to ever coach an all female team at the university. Consequently, everything I did was scrutinized by many of the women coaches, and I knew that an ant hill of a mistake would be turned into a mountain of a mess. What the team and I did this first year might very well determine not only the existence of the women's water polo program but also determine if another male would be able to coach an all female team at Slippery Rock.

We were playing in the AAU Women's Open Indoor Championship at Mercersburg, PA, and two of my friends were referees, Miguel, the coach of men's water polo at the University of Pittsburgh and Paul, a National Men's Referee and the men's coach at Lower Moreland High School. They were visiting me in my motel room when I told them that I had to leave for a team meeting with my female players. The meeting was out side in the patio of the motel.

As I was talking to the team, Paul and Miguel had sneaked around the back of the motel to a place that was a couple of paces behind me. Suddenly Miguel grabbed my sweats and pulled them down to my ankles, and I broke the automobile land speed record pulling them back up. I was wearing a tee shirt and a pair of sweat pants with no underwear - my sleeping togs. Miguel and Paul took off for their car, and I told the women that what transpired here tonight had to be our secret or there would probably be no women's water polo program next year or any other year. And until this very day not one of those women have ever told anyone at Slippery Rock what happen that night. Also at the Rock there are several males coaching all female teams and there still is a women's water polo team.

About an hour later Paul and Miguel came to my room to apologize. In fact Miguel was crying and telling me how sorry he was. Paul looked at me and said you are not even angry with us are you, and I said, "Paul I don't get angry I get even!" Then they left, and several years later during a summer tournament the club team I was coaching called the Pittsburgh Renegades was eating in a restaurant with a large salad bar when in walks Paul. Yes, Rocky being from Pittsburgh was on the team and I sent him to do the deed. Paul was at the salad bar with a plate in one hand and a cup of soup in the other hand when Rocky jerked his shorts down to his ankles." Paul said the thing he remembered most about this incident was my high, southern voice saying very loudly, "Paul I told you I was going to get even!"

This referee story is not just about Slippery Rock it is about women's collegiate water polo in general. It is about a National Women's Collegiate Championships held at the Naval Academy in 1988. This was the first and only National Women's Collegiate Championship that had two female referees on the Championship game. The game was between UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara, and the two referees were Sandy Nita and Vaunne Kadlubek. What a great day for women's water polo. They both did an excellent job, and showed not only women's water polo but also the entire water polo community that women can do as good a job refereeing as men can, and maybe they can do it even better?

Parting Shot

With such fun stories and a slew of such great players similar to the ones mentioned in this article, it would be impossible for anyone to tell me that I didn't make a great deal more in memories than any obscenely paid college football coach made in cash. To me the bottom line is not money, but rather, it is family and the opportunity to be able to learn from and teach to a number of wonderful young people who were willing to dedicate and sacrifice themselves to try to reach a goal or purpose. Even if that goal just involves a sport - no not just a sport, but a grand game that will hopefully help to mold both their character and behavior.

Email Coach Hunkler at [email protected]