"An American Water Polo Hero"

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

Although John Wayne died almost 25 years ago, he is still revered by Americans as their definition of the American hero. The courage, the tenacity, and the sense of honor in his characters, the unyielding hardness and monumentality of Wayne as bearer of moral absolutes, are all qualities that are admired by Americans.

In the majority of movies he made throughout his career, Wayne epitomized what Americans preferred to see as their national image throughout the world; the take-no-prisoners, tough, strong, courageous, and honorable man who stood up to evil and ultimately won against it. He had to have filled some need in his audience… he stood for an America that people felt was disappearing or had disappeared… for a time “when men were men.” At Wayne’s death, President Jimmy Carter stated that “John Wayne was a symbol of many of the most basic qualities that made America great. The ruggedness, the tough independence, the sense of personal conviction and courage, both on and off the screen, reflected the best of our national character”.

But Doc Doesn't Have a Horse or a White Cowboy Hat or a Six Shooter - Will Cowboy Boots Do?

In the world of Water Polo, we are fortunate to have an analogous personality in Richard “ Doc” Hunkler. Born and raised in Texas, Doc is our hero in the White Hat vs Black Hat of Organized Crime (woops... organized sport). He personifies the concept of the knight errant which was used by the Western genre novelists to create the lone gunman, the cowboy “just passin’ through,” righting wrongs and sowing seeds of growth in his wake. He epitomizes the national virtues of rugged individualism and that pioneer heritage that right and justice must always triumph over evil.

For over 40 years, Doc Hunkler has fought a battle of conviction and courage which most see as the seeds and growth of the Women’s NCAA and Olympic programs in the United States. After his retirement, Doc brought that rugged independence to bear on Water Polo Planet as the force driving what is now the most successful water polo website in North America… the “Alternative Voice” where Doc’s opinions are sometimes harsh, often controversial, but always conveying the sense of personal conviction and courage that made him so successful as a pioneer.

There is a dichotomy facing many ventures in the United States: the courage and tenacity necessary to build and nurture a program out of nothing is admirable in a setting of growth, but may become a detriment to those seeking to provide organizational solutions to the same program. In this peculiar dichotomy, the US pioneer spirit and trail blazing courage, traits viewed as admirable, can often be marginalized, and even reviled, as the system becomes more “civilized”, bureaucratized or self serving.

It is a sad occasion that I watch this particular phenomenon occurring within the CWPA in their treatment of Doc Hunkler… from a group of coaches, many of whom were Doc’s students, who were helped and nurtured by Doc, and most, his colleagues for many years.

After a long and hard fought battle, the Slippery Rock Water Polo program finally came to its end this past weekend. SRU played its final games at the 2008 CWPA Western Divisional Championships. At the request of his former player, and current coach, Jim Yeamans, Doc has worked as volunteer assistant coach during the final 4 weeks of the program he began and nurtured for the past 40 years. It has been a difficult few weeks for Doc as well as many of his former players and students to watch his legacy come to an end.

Doc Like Lou Costello Was a Baaaaaaad Boy or Should We Say He Ventured Into "No Country for Old Men"!

Two weeks ago on the pool deck, Doc encountered a familiar issue… lack of consistency of the referees on his game. Both Doc and Jim Yeamans protested the calls to the referees resulting in a red card for Jim in one game and two Yellow cards for Doc in two separate games. As we all know, Doc’s opinion on the subject of refereeing is public and clear. He has written many articles on Water Polo Planet calling for training, consistency, and revision of the referee program in the US. His feelings have been public and offered under his own name. Following the game, Doc posted 2 comments on the WPP message board criticizing the consistency of the refereeing. These comments were nothing new – they were the same comments he has been making during the entire history of WPP. However, this time, his comments could be linked to a specific incident, at a game played within the organizational construct of the CWPA.

As a result of those posts on the message board, the CWPA League Office convened the Board of Review. The Board of Review’s recommendation was that Doc be suspended for 1 game. The Commissioner Dan Sharadin and the Board of Directors decided to ban him from Slippery Rock’s last three games, the last three in the history of the program. They also notified Doc that they would allow him, however, to coach the final SRU game due to his long career and contributions.

Speaking with some of the CWPA coaches, it became clear that this suspension was recommended by the Commissioner as punishment not for Doc’s behavior on the pool deck (yellow card)… but for Doc’s involvement in Water Polo Planet, in particular, our anonymous message board. This being the case, Doc opted NOT to fight the battle to coach the final 3 games of SRU in public but to appeal to his fellow coaches in the CWPA for help and support.

Private Emails to CWPA Coaches Does Not Make a "Public Forum" But a Message Board Does!

Last week, Doc sent private emails to the CWPA coaches explaining what happened and he wrote an email to the Board of Directors requesting to have the Board of Review’s recommendation reinstated which would allow Doc to coach 2 of the final 3 games in SRU history. As a result of that PRIVATE EMAIL, Dan Sharadin, the CWPA Commissioner, wrote a follow-up letter to Doc where in he rescinded the offer to allow Doc to coach the final game, forbidding him to be on the pool deck, or have any contact with his team and players for any of the SRU games and the Board of Directors never gave him an answer concerning his request that they follow the recomendation of the Board of Review.

In the end, the actions of the CWPA were, in actuality, personal petty vindictiveness against a message board… a message board that has evolved into one of the more potent vehicles of communication in a struggling sport and is visited over a million times each month by fans of water polo. In the end, the CWPA administration made it likely that their now 3 year old “Lifetime Ban” of Loren Bertocci was most likely retaliation for a message board that Loren at the time had nothing to do with… In the end, Doc stuck to his principles, showing personal conviction and courage, proving once again the same qualities we admire as exemplified by” the Duke”.

Doc watched the final 3 games of his 40 year legacy from the stands. In the end, Doc exemplified the John Wayne ideals of being ”tough, strong, courageous, and honorable” when he wrote to well wishers “With our message board, we are trying to satisfy the water polo community not Dan’s narrow view of what water polo criticism should be. In a just cause there are always casualties and Loren and I happened to be two of them but I bet you there will be others as well. Being a casualty of this cause is not going to stop me from speaking my mind on the message board nor is it going to keep me from telling the truth.”

Doc is Called a Pioneer Because Every Time He Looks in the Mirror He Sees Not His Daddy But Rather His GrandDaddy!

The Platonic-Aristotelian singling out of universal virtues – courage, justice, and a concept of prudence, which includes both judgment and practical reasoning (common sense) has stood solidly within the 72 year lifetime of Richard “Doc” Hunkler. Like John Wayne, Doc Hunkler stands for an America that people feel is disappearing or has disappeared… for a time “when men are men”. It is a pity that the CWPA league and member coaches, who by their consensus continue to support the league in these uncourageous decisions, cannot see back into the not so distant past… to a time when pioneers were the only thing possible to grow our sport.

(Text graciously written by Joan and Sub-section Titles written not so graciously by Doc)