Water Polo Travels with Doc - Ad Infinitum

Richard Hunkler, Ph.D.
Water Polo Planet

There is a field in mathematics called “Set Theory” in which it is states there are several different types of infinite numbers. In fact it says infinite numbers can be classified as “countable” and “uncountable” and the countable infinite numbers start with aleph null the size of the set of whole numbers and then there is aleph one and so on and so forth. Wow, isn’t that similar to saying that there are several kinds of “forever”? Well, you are not going to have to read my “Water Polo Travel with Doc” stories forever because I am kind of getting tired of telling them myself. Of course that is a little fib. I wonder if that means I am going to have to spend an infinite number of days in Hell for lying? If so will the days be countable or uncountable? Irregardless of that you can stop reading these stories today by clicking the back button on your browser.

College Days

The “T” in Texas A & M could easily stand for the word “Tradition” because there is almost an infinite amount of tradition associated with this university. This is especially true with the school’s “Corp of Cadets”. When I attended Texas A & M about 98% of the students were in the corp. An example is “loyalty” because if you were not supportive of the athletic teams, especially football, win or lose then you were called a “2 percent-er” and you were ostracized by many cadets. Here goes a story about tradition.

In the athletic dorm there was quite a rivalry among the different sports and one of the arcane traditions between the swimmers and baseball players was as follows: Every spring after finishing a dinner a group of baseball fish (freshmen) would grab a sophomore swimmer in his chair, carry him to the nearest dorm, turn on the communal showers, and dump him in the running shower. Then a group of fish swimmers were to do the same to a sophomore swimmer. This particular day when I was a junior the fish swimmers for some unknown reason did not retaliate.

When I got back to our dorm I made a call for all fish swimmers to meet me in my room. In the room with the fish swimmers I began to verbally ream them a new you know what. I told them that they had performed a major sin by not retaliating and, thus, breaking with tradition. I told them they disappointed me, the swimmers and water polo players, the athletes in this dorm, and all the athletes that came before them. I must have hollowed and raved for almost thirty minutes and when I finished I told them to get their sorry asses out of my room and not to speak to me until they had restored our fine tradition.

That night at about 2 a.m. in the morning I was hit with what felt like a tidal wave of water from a hall trash can and it almost knocked me out of my bed. Upper classmen “drown-outs” were usually carried out with a small room trash can but for this drown-out one of the large hall trash cans was used. I slept on the top bunk and my roommate, a sophomore, Jose Merino, from Peru, South America, slept on the bottom bunk. Jose had won the 100 meter freestyle event in the South America Swimming Nationals three times before attending Texas A & M on a full swimming scholarship. There was so much water it started to drip on to Jose in his bottom bunk and it woke him up. Waking up Jose usually took something similar to an atomic bomb test in the dorm’s court yard. Jose got up, walked to the window, shut the window, turned to face me and said, “Hey Deek; it is rainin’ in!”

I didn’t try to catch who performed this monumental drown-out, which probably set some type of record for the most water ever used in a drown-out, because at the next dinner meal two baseball sophomores were carried to the showers.

Men’s Water Polo

Most of the players for which I got admission waver were really grateful and to show their gratitude they would work hard on their studies and graduated. I loved it every time one of my players would graduate but I especially loved it when the players with admission waver graduated. But let me also tell you about the other side of this coin which involved players who could not get in any other school but were admitted to Slippery Rock University. They would work real hard and make all A’s and B’s and then transfer to another university. That used to tick me off but then most of these players received their degree from the school to which they transferred. Isn’t this what collegiate athletics should be all about – getting a college education? Maybe someone should whisper the mantra,” graduate, graduate, graduate …”, or maybe they should shout it, into the ears of the football and basketball coaches! Almost a third of the Mickey Mouse NCAA rules were created to help the football and basketball players try to graduate.

Speaking of football players, I had a shallow water goalie for a season that had played three years on the Slippery Rock football team whose name was, I think, Anthony Denuchi. Towards the end of the season I took him to a tournament at Penn State University and he kept saying, “Put me in coach; put me in”, so finally I put him in and I didn’t know it but he couldn’t swim. He could only dog paddle and there he was dog paddling with the water up to his nose. I couldn’t call time out and get him out of the pool because we were on defense. A player on the other team saw our goalie struggling to keep his head above water. The player shot the ball from mid-court and thank god it scored so I could get Denooch (his nick name) out the water. I said to him, “I didn’t know you couldn’t swim”; and he said, “That’s all right coach I didn’t know it was all deep water.”

I had another shallow water goalie that was on the wrestling team at Slippery Rock University and his name was Kono Morosky. His mother was Hawaiian and his father was Polish which meant when he was out of the water he was as loose as a Hawaiian’s grass skirt and when he was in the water he was as tough as a Polish warrior. He was probably the best shallow water goalie I ever had and when he was in the shallow water goal he not only intimidated the opposing players in the pool but also the opposing fans in the stands. The opposing team in the shallow end of the pool had to set the 2 meter player outside the 4 meter line or the pass into the 2 meter player was his. After he graduated he once came to an alumni game with a red target painted on his face because in my annual pre-game alumni letter I said we didn’t need many goals to beat them so that the varsity team players could shoot the ball at Kono’s face. (I thought that since my varsity players had been shooting the ball at the corners and the balls were hitting the goalie’s face that maybe if we shot the ball at the goalie’s face the balls would end up in the corners) Several years ago he retired from being an under cover policeman for the Pennsylvania State Police.

Women’s Water Polo

I recruited an excellent water player by the name of Dee Dee Dave, one of Chuck Hines players from Ashville, North Carolina. She was a good water polo player, a hard worker, and a pure delight to have on the team; however, she had one quirk which is called “the grass must be greener on the other side of the fence” syndrome. After every away water polo trip on the way home in the van she would rant on and on about how the school we played was so much better than Slippery Rock University. After two years of this ranting about how bad Slippery Rock was I finally had it up to my eyebrows in complaints I finally told Dee Dee it would be better if she transferred to one of those schools she was raving about so much.

Dee Dee did just that at the start of her junior year. I think she went to one of those large state universities in Florida which made me wonder if I shouldn’t have kept my mouth shut about her transferring. In the middle of that first semester I received a telephone call from Dee Dee telling me she missed her teammates, the water polo practices, and even classes at little old Slippery Rock. I told her that we missed her as well. She then asked me if it would be all right if she came back next semester and joined the team again. I told her that would great! There are two lessons to learn from this story and the first is that the water polo water is not always much bluer or better on the other side of your current university fence. The second is that a coach shouldn’t wish out loud about something he wasn’t sure that he really wanted in the first place.

In those days there were very few college teams without non-university or club team players on their roster, so Denny Harper, who was then the men’s and women’s coach at San Diego State University, decided to hold the first Invitational National Women’s Collegiate Championship the weekend before the AAU National Women’s Open Championship. If I remember correctly the top eight teams in the country were invited to the championship and each team could only use players enrolled at their university. Arizona was seeded first, SDSU was seeded second and I think we were seeded third or fourth. To make a long weekend in the sun that turned us into crispy critters shorter than the ride we took on the Disney Haunted Mountain roller coaster after playing in both the Collegiate and AAU Open Nationals, we ended up playing and beating SDSU in the National Collegiate Championship game. That year we placed fourth in the AAU Open Nationals because all of the teams we played had non-university or club players including most of the same teams that we just played in the Collegiate Nationals. By the way Dee Dee Dave along with many other excellent players played in that first ever National Women’s Collegiate Championship.


In a game at Navy I was really ragging on a young inexperienced referee that was working with Paul Barren. In those days’ referees, even inexperienced referees, had much thicker skin than water polo referees of today. Ever watch a football or basketball game because those referees must take pills or herbs that make their skin really, really thick. Maybe it has more to do with cash than it does with pills.

After several more remarks to the this referee at the end of a quarter, Paul walked over to me and wanted to know why I was so adamant against this young referee because Paul said that he thought the referee was doing an adequate job of refereeing. I told Paul that I thought he was doing better than an adequate job but that I was trying to fire up my team using the old “them” and “us” ploy. I was telling my team before the game and at each break that we were not playing against seven players but against eight players and one of the players was this referee. Thus, I said, “If I don’t yell at this referee they wouldn’t take my talk seriously.” I thought he was going to wet his britches he was laughing so hard.

In no other sport do referees have as much control over the outcome of the game as they do in water polo. One time in a first round game in a Women’s Collegiate Championship, Hank Vellencamp after several years of not refereeing started refereeing again and this was his first national game to referee in quite a while. Needless to say I thought his refereeing skills were somewhat rusty and since he had only been refereeing California games I thought the 50-50 calls were more like 80-20 calls with my non-California team on the short end. We lost the game so I went to the head referee Gary Robinette to complain and Gary told me to write out my complaints thinking that would deter me from complaining further. I wrote three pages of complaints and gave them to Gary. Guess what the disposition of my written complaint was? Hank was assigned to my three or four remaining games. I was not a happy camper because the head referee didn’t just have power; he had absolute power! After that tournament Hank and I became good friends. He even let my youngest son, Wes, and another Slippery Rock player, John Barret, practice and play with the summer team he coached. Hank was a great friend to water polo and he will be greatly missed by everyone involved in the sport.

One last story about the raw power that a referee can sometimes have. We were playing UCSD in a semifinal game in a National Women’s Collegiate Championship and we needed a tie or a win to move into the championship game. The score was something like 4 to 3 in UCSD’s favor and there was about 20 seconds left in the game.USCD was on a counter attack and there was a turnover of the ball and we had a player who was cherry picking on a wing at the offensive end of the pool. The ball was thrown to her and she made one fake and delivered one of the best lob shots in all of water polo which of course went into the net. The Table and the time keeper ruled it a score. But wait a second; the front court referee who had his back to the game clock said no goal because the time had run out before the shot was taken. The other referee was asked if he agreed with this call and he said he didn’t know because he was watching the game and not the game clock. The ruling of the one referee against the entire table was upheld by the head referee on an appeal. It is a shame every mortal can’t taste that kind of raw power just once in his or her lifetime.

Parting Shot

Remember what the title says, “Water Polo Travels with Doc – Ad Infinitum” which means I have a semi-truck load of times to try and get my stories down on paper. Do I embellish any of the stories? Maybe I do a little. Oh, oh; there I go playing with fire again. The memory part of the brain is a strange bedfellow in that it can be a large reservoir for good things or an endless pit for bad things. I prefer to let my cup of memories runneth over with good memories and to let it drown out the bad memories. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know why I do this; it is because of my age stupid! No, no, it’s because of the subject matter which is young people and water polo, so you see the subject does matter. You can take most of my memories about youth and water polo to Fort Knox because to me they are golden!

Email Coach Hunkler at [email protected]