Travels with Doc - Ad Infinitum + 1

Richard Hunkler, PhD.
Water Polo Planet

Adding one to infinity is similar to what Humphrey Bogart said to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, “It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans”. Adding any integer to infinity changes its size about as many times as a referee changes his or her mind on a 5 meter penalty shot he or she just called. What it really means is this is another article of hokey stories concerning my water polo journey and unlike any other journey you don’t have to buy a ticket. All you need be is literate and you have a ticket to ride. If you do not care to take another ride then click on one of the several other links to water polo stories on the home page. Remember nobody will ever know except you and maybe the Federal Government under George W. Bush’s watch.

College Days

When enrolling in Texas A & M instead of taking a full swimming scholarship I took a half scholarship and a waiter’s job. This was not for humanitarian reasons but it was because I was so competitive I wanted Coach Art Adamson to give the other half of the scholarship to another needy, fast swimmer, so we would have a chance to win the Southwest Conference Championships. (We finally won the Conference in 1956 during my junior year.) My freshman year I was a waiter, my sophomore year a super-waiter (supervised several other waiters), my junior year an Assistant Head Waiter, and my senior year a Head Waiter in charge of all athletes except football players. Those prima donnas ate in a secluded room in another dining hall so very few people could see what they got to eat. This was in the football-is-god era of Paul “Bear” Bryant. Of course you know football is god everywhere in Texas anyway.

In Hart Hall, the Athletic dorm, there were a dozen or so other athletes who were waiters as well as myself. When I was a senior every morning at 6:00 am I would march the waiters to the dining hall, actually it was called a mess hall. I would always stop them under the window of one of my best friends, Bobby Woodward’s dorm room and have them yell, “Time to get up Granddaddy Short-legs”. Bobby was short in statue but very tall In courage, loyalty, and friendship. If it were not for Bobby I might not have graduated high school because he came by my home and got me up for school almost every morning come rain or shine.

All the Head Waiters in Duncan Mess Hall ate at a special table close to where the athletes ate and we ate almost as well as the football players. One time while we were eating, the dessert for the athletes was late, so similar to a prison mess hall the athletes started beating on their tables with their silverware in their hands and yelling “Cush! Cush! Cush!” Now cush was the nickname for dessert at A & M. After a few minutes of the chanting I got up from the Head Waiter’s table, walked to where the athletes were, climbed upon an empty chair, and in a very loud voice said, “The next person I see hitting a table and yelling I will suspend from the mess hall for a week”. Everyone became deathly quiet because athletes do love to eat.  When I got back to the Head Waiter’s table several Head Waiters said, “You don’t have the authority to do that”, and I said, “You know that and I know that but the athletes don’t know that”.

Men’s Water Polo

There was a cheap shot artist on Bucknell’s Team by the name of O’Malley. He would sucker punch players on the opposing team if the players were smaller than him but he would never sucker punch anyone larger than him. He was also a whiner. Those two characteristics in a player make that player one my least favorites. Anyway we were playing them at Army and during the fourth quarter he got into a scuffle with one of my short, tough players named Dave Menick from Paul Barren’s team at Lower Moreland, PA.  In the scuffle it appeared O’Malley had lost his glasses. The game was stopped to look for O’Malley’s glasses and our team was in the water on the side of the pool talking with me waiting for the game to restart. When Dave pulled his suit away from his side and said coach look here. Tucked into the side of Dave’s suit were O’Malley’s glasses. He further said while they were wrestling O’Malley bit him so he stole his glasses and gave a couple of punches to the head. I told him to swim to the middle of the pool as if he were looking for the glasses and drop them out of his suit. O’Malley finally got his due from someone who was smaller but stronger and smarter than him.

On one of my first teams I had another excellent player from Lower Moreland named Richard Betz who without my knowledge was called by the remainder of the team, the Enforcer! He was about 6’ 2” tall and weighed about 195 pounds and was as tough as a sixteen penny nail.  Richard was called the Enforcer because when any player on an opposing team sucker punched one of our players Richard always avenged that sucker punch with a punch of his own. This made him the most popular player on the team. Also I had another player from Florida who very few players on our team liked by the name of Pat Gray. Pat was one of the least liked players on the team because he had a low self esteem and he always had a story to top the story told by another player on the team. Pat’s mother and father were divorced when he was very young and he was raised by his mother but he was always trying to please his father.  Pat was sucker punched in a game and his nose was broken. At the quarter break Richard asked Pat who did this to him and before the game was over the culprit received a punch to his stomach that knocked the breath out of him. This did more for Pat’s self esteem than me trying to give him playing time and by Richard doing this for him caused him to be accepted by the entire team. Anyway to make a long story much shorter than the agonizing last two minutes of the last quarter of a game in which you are leading by one point, Pat became the father to his son that he always wished his father would have been to him. 

Women’s Water Polo

My women always had more discipline than my men. In fact every time I instituted a new offense I would always try it out during women’s season on the women’s team first. In a game the women would run the play over and over until they made a point or lost possession of the ball. The men would run the play one or two times and then start freelancing. In an AAU Nationals at Mercersburg, PA before an important game we discussed several offenses and defenses.  On the first three offensive possessions the women only ran one of the plays we discussed. The rules in those days didn’t allow a team any timeouts, so on our next offensive possession I yelled, “Dad gum it, do something else!” The women got so tickled they couldn’t do anything but pass the ball a couple of times and then dump it in the corner. Finally, they did something else on offense and we won the game but that did not stop them from asking between each quarter what “Dad gum it”, meant.

On the way to a tournament we were making a pit stop at a small gas station and while I was in the rest room but not resting the women decided to play keep away with one of Leslie Entwistle’s, tennis shoes. Leslie was an All American player from Annapolis, MD who took off her shoes when she got in the van.  As I was starting to pay for our gas Leslie said, “Can you help me out a little?” and she walked me to the door of the gas station office. In the glass transom above the door there was her tennis shoe sticking halfway through the glass. She asked for my help because I was the only one tall enough to reach the shoe and she didn’t have any other shoes for the trip.  I got her shoe and then walked over to the attendant and ask him how much for the gas and the broken glass window in the transom. He said the gas was ten dollars and some change and there would be no charge for the broken glass. He said the owner was a jerk and that the owner had insurance. He said he would tell the owner his boss that someone driving by in a car threw a rock through the transom door window. I guess today that would be called a drive by rock-throwing. Finally, he said that the look on my face was worth the price of the window and the look on his boss’s face would be worth a lot more.  I told the women that the attendant just saved us three full meals by not making us pay for the broken window and I further told them if this happens again then there would be a penalty a great deal worse than missing several meals. The penalty would be that all involved would sit the bench of the next tournament - a penalty worse than death for several of my players.


Not long ago David Alberstein told me a story about when he was refereeing one of our games in the Invitational Collegiate National Championships sponsored by Denny Harper while Denny was at San Diego State. This was in the days you could have only one referee. Since the money was short and budgets were small many games had only one referee. There were several referees such as David, Paul Barren, Bret Bernard, Bob Corb, Brad Peavy, Andy Takata, and others who did women's games for less than scale to help them out. Well David was refereeing one of our games and I began to yell at him. At the half I sent our captain Lynn Comer-Kachmarik over to talk to David about his refereeing.  David said when she got there to talk to him she said, “Go ahead and throw him off the deck now and we can finish this game on time”.  David said when she said that she made him a friend for life.

At one California Tournament after my game I went to talk to Dave Heck about the game. Dave was a no-nonsense referee that didn’t take crap off of anybody including players, coaches, and other referees.  I had to go into the referees lounge to do this and as I walked into the lounge several of the referees started ragging on me about being too vocal. They said no one wanted to hear what I had to say.  Dave spoke up and said he would be glad to speak to me. He said to the other referees that I had passion about the game and passion was exactly what this game needed. I had a great conversation with him about both the referees’ and coaches’ perspective of refereeing. Dave died in August 2005 and his passion for the game still lives on in others who knew him as the errant Knight of passionate water polo.

Parting Shot

What would really be great is that you enjoyed reading these vignettes as much as I do writing them. If you think they were a blast reading and/or writing about them then living them was a nuclear explosion. I am a very lucky man because Billie, the three sons and their wife’s, and the grandchildren are my love and water polo is my mistress. These are the things I feel most passionate about and that passion I have for them is echoed in almost everything I do. Here is what Brian Norris has to say about passion:

Passion enables us to overcome obstacles (both real and imagined) and to see the world as a place of infinite potential. The passionate spirit looks at every occurrence and discovers the golden kernels of what can be, what should be and what will be.

I think Dave Heck would agree a 100% with that description of passion because I know I certainly do.

Email Coach Hunkler at [email protected]