Why More Water Polo Travels with Doc?

Richard Hunkler, PhD
Water Polo Planet

Why more water polo travels with Doc? Is this similar to Microsoft wanting to create another computer product? Naw, because I am not making any money for writing another travels with Doc story. When is enough really enough? Ask Bill Gates? Wait a minute, I am writing another travels with Doc article because of popular demand. My wife, our three children and their wives, and our 10 grandchildren want to read more of my stories concerning water polo. Don't count my wife because she has heard all the old stories many times before to her chagrin. .

You say 16 people are not much of a demand? Well, it is a greater number of people than the number of people who have thanked us this year for having an "Alternate Voice": web site for water polo. Since we are not doing it for money or prestige an occasional pat on our backs would "Make our day" and make Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry dialogues a lot more meaningful. I hope these stories make your day, but if they are not your cup of water polo, exercise your computer given rights and click the big white X at the right hand top of the page.

College Days

When I was an undergraduate at Texas A&M in the mid fifties swimmers or water polo players were not allowed to lift heavy weights during their season because it was believed by many swimming coaches that lifting heavy weights would make your muscles tight. Everyone knew then that for a swimmer to swim fast he or she had to have "loose" muscles! Don't laugh just yet because football coaches wouldn't let football players swim during football season for the opposite reason - swimming would make football players too "loose". Everyone knew then you couldn't play football well if you were "loose" …

Once upon a time in my room in the athletic dorm I was bench pressing some borrowed heavy weights from Willie Parks. I had read several research articles showing that heavy weights could help athletes in almost every sport. Willie was a shot putter and evidently tight muscles were good for putting the shot because he never got into any trouble with the weights. Anyway to make a long story shorter than a water polo game with five minute quarters, Coach Art Adamson walked into my dorm room and after watching me a couple of minutes said, "Hunkler those weights had better be out of this athletic dorm room by tomorrow or you will be!" After living in the athletic dorm being placed in a Corps or military dorm would be similar to going from a suite in the Waldorf Astoria into Dante's Inferno, so the heavy weights were returned to Willie Parks and similar to the Black Dahlia killer they were never seen again.

Claus Dieter Ufer was a breaststroker and had the strongest kick on the swimming team. Probably, he had the strongest kick in the Southwest Swimming Conference. No, I really didn't make up that name. Every chance I got I would get in his lane for kicking sets. On each lap we would start even and by the end of the lap he would be several yards ahead of me. Then how did we start even on every lap? At the end of the lap as Dieter was starting his push off I would turn around with my kick board and wait for him to become even with me to start kicking again.

You ask, if doing this did I create a hated enemy? 'Ay contraire' because Dieter was and is one of my very best friends. He saved my bacon on several occasions and in several situations during my senior year at A&M. He was a lowly freshman and I was a high and mighty senior the same as Dieter's brother Norman. Seniors marched in calf length leather boots and that is the reason why most seniors bought boots that were secondhand. Secondhand boots are much better than second hand lions, especially if you have to march with them. But more importantly secondhand boots have already been broken-in.

My grandfather, G. F. Shepard, who didn't have a pot to go in and even a window to throw it out of saved for three years to buy me a new pair of Aggie boots. I wore them with pride but that didn't keep them from hurting my feet or making my calves swell. Moreover, Fish Ufer (the moniker of all freshmen cadets at Texas A&M) was the only one who could pry these boots off my legs. After marching in those boots I would enter the dorm and yell, "Fish Ufer; front and center; for the escaping feet patrol!"

Men's Water Polo

One time at a club tournament held at Penn State University about 15 Slippery Rock players and I stayed in a one bedroom apartment which had a living room and kitchen combined into one small windowless room. There were sleeping bags toe to toe and side to side everywhere one looked in this small room. At about 2 am I got the call from Miss Nature to empty my bladder. (Lately I have gotten that call quite frequently. In fact it appears as if there is an Ohio State football stadium full of Miss Natures calling me.)

Since I was by the wall on the opposite side of the room from the bathroom I had to navigate to the other side across what seemed like an endless sea of sleeping bags and I had to do it in a pitch black room without any infrared goggles. Needless to say I stepped on body parts of numerous players and each time I stepped on a player he either yelled some profanity or jumped. These two things were enough to scare the living sleep out of other players so that by the time I got to the bathroom everyone was awake and making rude comments about my stumbling sojourn to the toilet. Everyone but Kerry Kukelewski (lets see you try to spell it) was awake and this guy could have slept in the back of a pick up truck passing from one side of the eye to the other side of hurricane Katrina.

After I finished my business with the bathroom I turned out the bathroom light so as not to wake the sleeping, rude, giants again. However, when I open the door there was a table lamp sitting on the kitchen table that was turned on and my sleeping bag had been moved from the other side of the room to a place next to the bathroom door. On all subsequent stays in small rooms my sleeping bag always mysteriously appeared in a place near the bathroom.

Tournaments at Washington and Lee University were great because we received free housing in the athletic visitors' dorm. We thought this was great until we were playing Washington and Lee in the championship game of one of their home tournaments and about five minutes before the start of the game their coach, Page Remilard, came to me and said that we would have to forfeit the game if we didn't pay for one of the game balls that was defaced by one of my players. I asked to see the ball and sure enough by one of the seams on the ball in about one inch lettering was something similar to "The Rock Rules.".

I asked him how did he know one of my players did this and he said his captain saw one of my players do it. He added that since the school followed the Honor Code he knew it had to be true. Finally the game started but not until the $15.00 was paid to him for the ball. That was probably the best pre-game motivational talk my team ever received and it was given to them by an opposing coach. We won the championship game easily by 6 or 7 points.

In those days each player was given $5.00 for the evening meal but I didn't hear one player complain when he received only $4.00 for his victory dinner at Mickey D's. The cost of the ball had to come out of our meal money. Maybe free housing is not the only reason why you should go to a school's tournament?

Two days before another tournament the coach who we were to stay with called and said his roommates told him we couldn't sleep on the floor of his house. Their reasons why we couldn't crash at their house were 1) we were too messy and loud; and 2) there may have been something missing after the last time we were there. We may have been semi-loud but I always made them police any place we stayed. Stealing from someone that is helping you is like messing in your own nest - even coo coo birds don't do that.

He said that his roommates agreed that we could sleep in his back yard if we wanted to do that. At such a late date we had no choice but to use our sleeping bags in his back yard. Four or five players unintentionally placed there sleeping bags on the nests of red fire ants. In the middle of the night these players started shaking their sleeping bags and swatting their arms and legs to get the ants off of them. They didn't yell once for fear of being too loud and being not allowed to stay the next night on this harrowing ant farm. The Devil's yard is sometimes better than no yard at all.

The next morning we played this coach's team and lost. Till this day I have players who swear by a semi-truck filled with Bibles that we lost because of the ant attacks and that the ants were put their by this coach. Of course this was not true, the reasons we lost were because that coach put the ants there and he trained them to attack us. Just fooling you we lost because his team was better than ours. Besides as soon as this coach got rid of his anti-water-polo roommates, we stayed in his home at many other tournaments.

One last men's water polo story about my days of coaching and being vociferous with the referees. When I stood up to yell at a referee the bench of one of my teams would stand up and surround me and then start yelling positive statements to the team, Thus, the referees not only couldn't hear me but they couldn't see me as well. This would have probably become a Slippery Rock tradition except the next year the rules were changed disallowing the bench players from standing up in the seating area. My ego is not so big as to think that the rules were changed just so referees could continue to throw me off the deck?

Women's Water Polo

My early women's teams were not only good ambassadors for Slippery Rock University but also excellent ambassadors for women's water polo. In most every tournament we ever played our players became good friends with the players on competing teams and when we played first year teams we did our darned est to hold down the score differential in those games. In games with novice teams you could see our players answering water polo questions put to them by opposing team players during the game.

In our first tournament at Harvard University the women made such a good impression on the players of the other teams that these teams agreed to 1) reschedule our game so we could play earlier and we could get a head start on a 10 hour drive back to Slippery Rock and 2) allowed Harvard to stop their game so they could go in the stands to tell our women goodbye. While Harvard was playing their game the Slippery Rock women were in the stands wearing their green Stetsons singing "Happy Trails to You" to say goodbye and thanks for the excellent tournament.

Since I was from Texas each player on the team bought a green felt cowboy hat and on the back of each of the hats was glued their name or nickname in red sparkles. They even made me one that read on the back of the hat, "The Mad Texan". Would you believe I still have that hat - I do!

Boston College got us invited to this Harvard tournament because for the past three years they had been undefeated and since we had placed third in the previous Indoor AAU Women's Water Polo Nationals, they thought after they beat us they could claim the title "Best Women's Team in the East and Third Best Women's Team in the USA". We were to play Boston College twice, once on Friday before the tournament in there shallow to deep pool and once in Harvard's all deep pool.

On that particular team I had some very large women - I said large not fat! And the size of the women on Boston College team was average to small. As we passed these players on the deck one of their seniors started crying. I guess she realized that her team was not going to go undefeated all four years of her college career.

The game was refereed by two players from Boston College's men's team and for the first several minutes of the first quarter every time we set up on our offense one of the referees called an offensive foul on us giving the ball back to Boston College. I called time out and told our women with this kind of refereeing the only way we were going to win was with our counterattack. I said it would be very difficult for the referees to cheat us on clear break aways. Not only were we larger and stronger than they were but we were also faster. At the end of the first quarter the score was 5 to zip in our favor.

After the first quarter the referees knew we were the much better team so for the remaining three quarters they called a fair game. We played everyone; we played colors (can only shoot within the last five seconds of a ball possession - the last five seconds the bench yells red); we played you only score when on a person-up; we did everything possible to keep the score differential small and we ended up beating them 14 to 1. Their coach was livid and he ran over to me and said that a shallow to deep pool was not a true test of a water polo team. He said did I know that tomorrow we would be playing in an all deep pool, and I said that's great because we play much better in an all deep pool. The next day in the Harvard Tournament we beat them 16 to 1 to show him I didn't speak with a forked tongue the night before.

You say you drove 10 hours to play in a tournament? Ten hours was just a drop of gas in a cars gas tank compared to what we did when we drove to the Nationals in San Diego, California one year. Student Activities said they were short on funds and that they couldn't pay for our airfare to Nationals that year, but they could loan us two station wagons and two school gas credit cards if we wanted to drive to Nationals. So thirteen women and I decided to drive to San Diego for the Nationals that year.

On the way to San Diego we had a driver and driver's helper in the front seat three players in the middle seat and two players in the last seat. The players in the back two seats were allowed to sleep. The driver and driver's helper drove from 4 to 6 hours then we rotated because we were driving nonstop to San Diego. Well after 12 rotations, 2200 miles, and 52 hours later we arrived in San Diego a day before the Nationals were to start. What a luxury - a whole day to rest before the start of the tournament. We placed third or fourth in the US Women's Collegiate Water Polo National Championship that year.

Borrowing a mangled lyric from an old Beatles' song, it was "A Hard Several Day's Night", on the way to the Nationals but on the way back the lyric became she's got a "Ticket to Ride". Sandy Nitta the then US Senior National Coach owned a motel in Las Vegas and she let us stay free in her motel for several days. This is when you could get a prime rib dinner or an everything but the kitchen sink buffet for $3.99. Las Vegas was still using food to entice people to gamble. I bet I gained at least 5 pounds in those three days we were there and I didn't dare weigh the women after their eating binge.

Next we drove to Colorado Springs where the Olympic Village was hosting the USWP yearly convention and guess what? All athletes and delegates got free housing and free meals at the Olympic Village. The women ate like Queens for the price of having to go to a few committee meetings and I of course had to go to many meetings since I was a delegate and a member of the US Women's International Committee.

A short note about our trip from Las Vegas to Colorado Springs is warranted about now. On the way to the Olympic Village driving in the mountains of Colorado one of the station wagons ran out of gas. Thank the gods of Mount Olympus we were at the top of a mountain when this happened because what we did was coast down the mountain into a closed gas station. We decided to spend the night at the gas station and wait for it to open so we could gas up and continue our trek across the wilds of Colorado.

Around midnight that night I was awakened by a player telling me that a policeman wanted to talk to me. I told him we were the Slippery Rock Women's Water Polo Team and he said. "You are the what?" Evidentially I explained everything to his satisfaction because he not only let us stay at the gas station but he told me that during the rest of the night he was on patrol he would swing by the gas station to make certain we were all right. He said he would do this because there had been several break-ins in this area in the last few weeks. Don't you tell me you can't find a good policeman when you needed one!


I remember a game at UC Santa Barbara when we were playing UCSB for 3rd place in the US Collegiate National Championship and Felix was refereeing. At the time the coach of UCSB was Rob Locke and he had a partial shaved head and was wearing one ear ring. Felix was about as macho as you can get so he must not have liked the way Rob looked because he gave us almost all the 50-50 calls which helped us to win the game. I related that game to Rob and he wrote me in an email, "I remember that game well. Felix loved me because all I gave him was food for thought. ;) ".

Rob coached UC Santa Barbara from 1986 to 1994 and presently is the coach of the boys' team at Carpinteria High School. I relate this story to you because Rob emailed me a few weeks ago to tell me how much he liked Water Polo Planet and to ask me how I have been. It was great to reminisce with Rob in an exchange of emails. Some people in women's water polo both players and coaches have no idea what we, the Pioneers, had to do to make women's collegiate water polo work. It was a hell of a ride and Rob agrees with me.

When I was young I used to get very nervous before important games so I tried everything from bio-feedback to transcendental meditation to help me to calm down before a big game. Before an important tournament in Princeton's old pool I was in the back corner of the men's dressing room doing my transcendental meditation using the mantra "one". This mantra was recommended by Herbert Benson, a Harvard MD who had written the book, The Relaxation Response, which has taken the mysticism out of the mystic transcendental meditation. Anyway I was sitting minding my own business while going about the business of meditating and saying my mantra.

In walks the referee known as the Bear, Paul Barren, and when he sees me he starts laughing so hard he has tears in his eyes. He says, "What the hell are you doing Doc?" I tell him I am trying to find a way to keep from yelling at him in the games and he says to me, "Hell I would rather have you yell at me during the games than have you doing whatever the hell it is you are doing now!"

A couple of people have asked why there are more men's and women's water polo stories than referee stories. If this is true it is because many of my referee stories are not appropriate for a family viewed web site.

Parting Shot

You tell me what five to nine office job paying a truck load of money allows you to experience stories like those in this article. Memories to me are like cash to Bill Gates - the more you get the more you want. And similar to the new Bill Gates spreading his money around to help charities I am trying to spread my stories around to help convince a new generation of youth into playing water polo. Giving to water polo or anything else you love is more important and much more fun than merely trying to get something back from these same things. For those of you that are as slow as me, what I am trying to say is that giving is more important and a lot more fun than taking.

(If the reader were to place his or her mouse pointer on my photograph then you would see me as I looked when many of these stories were actually happening.

Email Coach Hunkler at [email protected]