Interview with Referee Rudy Ruth

Russ Thompson
Water Polo Planet

Rudy RuthRudy Ruth has a long and distinguished career.  Under his guidance Pennsylvania Water Polo has flourished and it has done so in some really tough economic times for many schools.  Rudy, his wife Susan and their kids Jack and Molly make up a water polo family like no other.  Rudy coached state championship teams at Wilson High School in 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94 and 95, East Coast Champions 92, 93,

94 & 95, at one point Wilson won over 100 games in a row. He coached over 30 All Americans and over 60 All-State athletes.  Rudy received national coaching awards from United States Water Polo in 1992 and again in 2010. He was Head Coach of the Northeast Zone, Junior Olympics Coach multiple years, Berks County Aquatics Hall of Fame and founding board member of the Kingfish Water Polo Foundation Club (where he is still a board member).  In all of his spare time Rudy has been Pennsylvania’s State Commissioner for HS Water Polo for 30 years and he referees water polo.

Rudy’s wife Susan has been with Rudy every step of the way, and the accolades that Rudy earned, more than likely belong, in part, to Susan as well. She is an assistant with Wilson’s high school girl’s water polo team and she has been with Rudy every step of the way.  Susan’s involvement in water polo cannot be over-stated.  Pennsylvania Water Polo would not be the same without her support and her involvement.  Each time I have made my way to the eastern part of the state, I couldn’t step on the pool deck without seeing Rudy and Susan together, doing what they do.

Rudy and Susan have a son Jack who is a 2 time High School All-American in Swimming and Water Polo. Jack played 4 years of polo at Princeton and was a co-captain his senior year.  They also have a daughter Molly who is also a 2 time All American in water polo and played 2 years for the University of Maryland until the program was discontinued along with 8 other varsity sports.)

I have known Rudy a long time and I am certain many of you have as well.  For those of you who don’t know Rudy, it is my pleasure to present him today on the Water Polo Planet!

1. Most in the East will know but tell us a little about what you do vocationally.

I am the superintendent for the Wilson School District in West Lawn, PA. Wilson is a large suburban district, academically high achieving, with a robust extracurricular program.

2. When did you start playing?  At what age?  Tell us about that experience.

I started to play in physical education class in junior high at age 13. I really enjoyed the game from the start. Unfortunately soon thereafter our water polo/swim coach left the district and a new teacher moved in. The new teacher/swim coach was a very nice man but did not have the background or interest to continue the water polo program so I did not get the opportunity to play throughout high school. I didn’t have the opportunity to play again until college at West Chester University. I played throughout college and continued to do so through the Eastern League until age and poor cardio-vascular conditioning caught up with me in my late 30’s.

3. You have a long and successful career as a coach.  You built some powerhouse teams and did so in a shallow deep pool.  Tell us about the challenges of that and how you tackled those challenges.

We made polo a fun sport to play, one where each athlete was treated with respect through the Golden Rule. We had a great summer league for athletes from middle school through post-college.  We also had, at one point, 13 different teams playing in the Eastern League. During our hay day we had over 400 members in the Kingfish club and for last 6-7 years of my high school coaching career we always had 40-50 athletes on the team each fall. If you make something fun, work towards excellence and give each athlete a chance to play and improve good things happen.

4. You are the Commissioner of Pennsylvania Water Polo. Tell us about how that came about. 

It started in my kitchen with five teams in I believe 1986, with the help and support of our state coaches, supportive parents, and school administrators who were willing to give us a chance. We grew the sport with great success over the years. Our mantra was to do whatever it takes to help the support the growth of the sport. Coaches and programs, at times, put aside personal preference for the betterment of the whole and that was key! We were all about (again) incorporating the Golden Rule into all that we did. We did what was good for the kids and the sport.  

  1. What challenges face the sport? 

    Lack of coaches is a real problem. We struggle each year to find individuals who have the time, energy, and commitment to take on coaching. 

  2. What steps have you taken and will you take to face these challenges? 

    We again do “whatever it takes “ to keep programs afloat. We work hard to meet not only this challenge, but we work very intently with each school district to do whatever we need to ensure the sport stays and grows. I must say we work with some great AD’s that are about the students and families they serve which is a plus.

5.  If you were speaking to a fledgling team or coach, what advice would you give to that coach or team in order to succeed?

Be positive, continually learn more about the sport, and reach out when you need help. There are many great people in the sport that are more than glad to lend a hand.

6. You have a rather unique perspective.   You are the Commissioner of PA Water Polo, a long time successful coach. What made you decide to start refereeing?

I think (unless I am telling myself a story J)  that I have a good sense of the game that I hope translate to doing a good job officiating.

  1. When did you start refereeing? 

    I started referring in college.

  2. Tell us about your experiences here.

    I have had a great experience to date. I have had the opportunity to work with fellow officials and great coaches which has been a super experience! I try to not get defensive when suggestions are made to my officiating and I always am receptive to critique and comment, it only makes you better.

7. If one person in the state of PA (and the nation for that matter) has seen the paradigm shift of being a coach, a player, a parent of a player, the Commissioner, and a referee (and probably a couple of roles I am missing) it is you!  Tell the readers what you notice when you view the game from the different views or angles.  What do you now see as a referee that maybe you didn’t before?  Was there an ‘aha’ moment ever when refereeing?  Or did it all fit naturally?   What is your commentary on the different perspectives?  

I think the many different polo experiences I have had over time have been very beneficial to my officiating. I have had the opportunity to be exposed to some of the best players and coaches in the world as well as novice level individuals. You learn from each experience. I believe what is most important is to approach each game with the mindset that I am going to give my best possible effort! It is important to pay attention because the athletes and coaches put in a lot of time and to be respectful of this effort and work hard to do the best possible job. I also continually remind myself that I can always get better; I am usually my own worst critic.

8. In your opinion, what rule or rules make the game better?

Most importantly it’s all about the advantage rule…if an official truly understands the application of this rule you have a good chance of performing well.  If a player, for example, has offensive advantage through his efforts you cannot reward the defensive player with an ordinary foul. If an athlete is making progress towards the goal either call nothing or call the exclusion or penalty foul. Don’t hinder a player who works hard for offensive advantage by bailing the defender out with an ordinary foul.

  1. What happens to the game when you don’t pay attention to the advantage rule?  How does it alter the game in your view?

    Knowledgeable players and coaches get frustrated and defensive players ramp up on poor technique and fouling as they are not held accountable for superior position and technique…the game performance level is lower and physicality increases.

9. Which rules make the game worse?

Not sure that I have one that comes to mind.

10. Coaches are often times full time employees.  Players are college students usually.  But the referee is a part time position with their day job being something that has nothing to do with water polo.   Describe, for our readers, the challenges and discipline necessary to be a top referee.

You have to be willing to continually improve your practice, to seek out top officials and watch how they call a game, to really study it. Have them watch you and provide feedback. Talk to coaches who know their craft. What do they expect? The top coaches and athletes know which officials are solid.