Lest We Forget: Pioneer Coaches of Women's Water Polo
Scott Hinman coached the UC Santa Barbara Women's College Team from 1975 - 79 when the team won the US National Women's Collegiate Championship in '78 and '79. He was the coach of the Industry Hills Aquatic women's team which won four USWP National Women's Senior Championships, and was the Assistant Coach of the men's team which won an USWP National Men's Senior Championship. He founded and coached both the men's and women's teams at the Hacker Water Polo Club from 1982 - 84 which won an USWP National Men's Senior Championship once and the USWP National Women's Senior Championships twice. He was the first coach to win both the Men's and Women's USWP National Senior Championships in a single year. From 1982 - 88 he was an Assistant Coach of the US National Women's Senior Team. Currently he is the coach of the Irvine High School girls team which played in the CIFSS Division I finals twice, and he was selected as the 2000 CIFSS Div. I Girls' "Coach of the Year".
In 1975 I left the familiar hometown of East San Jose and headed to UC Santa Barbara to play water polo for Dante Dettamante and the Gauchos. It was there that my career as a women’s water polo coach began. During my first few weeks I was approached by two gorgeous and highly successful female aquatic personalities. Sandy Nielsen (1972 Swimming Gold Medallist at Munich Olympics) and Barbara Jones (Experienced water polo player from Merced, Ca). It took them 2 minutes to convince me to coach the UCSB Women’s Club Team. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that day was a turning point in my life. Since then, I have developed and coached women’s water polo Teams for UCSB, Industry Hills, Hackers, US National Junior and Senior Teams and in my current position at Irvine High School in Southern California.
While at UCSB, the team grew quickly to 45 members. It was a great mix of those who endured playing on boys’ high school teams with former swimmers who were rookies to the sport. This program was one of a few women’s teams that played a tournament circuit throughout California. These teams included UCSB, Arizona, Arizona State, San Diego State, UC Berkeley, Chico State, UC Davis and Stanford. The circuit always ended with the grand final at San Diego State in that old shallow end pool. Slippery Rock would always come out for this tournament which made it even more special. During this era, we started the first women’s tournament to be hosted at UCSB called “The Santa Barbara Classic” in 1979. UCSB defeated Stanford to take 1st and 3rd in the inaugural event. We had an “A”, “B” and “C” team entered.
We were all Collegiate Club programs with no budget and no rules. We played for the love of the game, conditioning, camaraderie and the feeling of worth. Let there be no illusion. These programs were highly competitive and played to win. Play was fierce, officials were evil, but at the end of the day there was always a beer, smiles and a social network that still lives on. There were no scholarships, few overzealous coaches, equal respect for all levels and no prima donnas. Practices were a combination of tough swimming and skills.
The first 3rd of each season was mostly one big clinic as those who knew taught those who were rookies. This wide range of experience and a willingness to peer tutor and learn brought everyone together. We looked forward to practices as opportunities rather than expectations or obligations. The girls decided that my “Pay” would be their help in taking off pool covers in the morning. I was working as a campus life guard at the time. They organized themselves in groups and would get my keys the night before practice. They’d take off the cover allowing me to sleep that extra half hour. I also got to put it on my time card.
Over the course of my 4 years with the UCSB program we won many games and tournaments but some of the most rewarding times were seeing my players get an opportunity to play in the first unofficial World Championship played in Merced 1978(?). Barbara Jones, Sally Thomas, Robin Lynn, and Dion Dickenson were from our program. Another Gaucho, Marla Smith, made the National Team in 1980. A consistent topic at the picnic table was the dream of taking women’s water polo to the NCAA and Olympic Levels. These women knew they probably would’t be playing if and when it happened, but it was their commitment to the dream that made it happen.
Our road trips were loose and fun. Pack up the cars, get on the road and look at a map on the way. Once we charted a bus to the San Diego tournament and upon arrival climbed out and started looking for floors to sleep on. No team managers or travel coordinators. It was pragmatism at its’ finest. The favorite tournament was at Chico State. I remember that Playboy Magazine came out with the top 100 party schools and they could not rank Chico State because they were considered to be professionals!! Games would end and teams would all meet at “The Grad” for some social time as well as that continuous talk about the “dream”. We all threw sleeping bags on the Chico State Gym Floor and got about 2 hours sleep before the 8:00am game. 8-10 Women’s teams sleeping together on a gym floor was a sight to behold and unfortunately, may never occur again.
The most famous road trip came in 1979 when the team at Arizona State combined with Arizona and put together a tour of Australia and New Zealand. They were kind enough to invite our UCSB Team to join then. We all took winter quarter off and on Dec19th flew off the Sydney. We returned sometime in February and a couple girls decided to stay and tour for a year! We usually stayed at homes of the Aussie and Kiwi Players while engaging in some very spirited competition. We played the University of Sydney in Cronulla Bay in Sydney Harbor on an evening with 500 or so age group spectators watching. There were Shark nets surrounding the playing course. Very Cool.
We played in an outstanding indoor facility in Christchurch New Zealand and the UCSB Team won the New Zealand National Championships. The Arizona Team went on the Melbourne and we eventually met up again in Sydney. New Years at the Sydney Opera House was a life experience as our teams learned what a Pub Crawl was. I have to say, we represented well!!!
But everywhere we went; there was a common bond and a common goal. How can we get to the Olympic Games? Will there ever be NCAA recognition?
Trips like these helped provide the atmosphere of cooperation and commitment to achieve international goals for women’s water polo development. The USA, Aussie's, Dutch and Canadians communicated frequently and kept the dream alive. The women and coaches of this era provided a common base of communication, strategies and commitment to get the sport where it is today. All knowing they may not be playing when it was finally achieved. We all did it for the love of the game.
For those fortunate enough to play high school, collegiate and international water polo now, I ask you to look to your sport’s history. And when things get a little tough, remember that there were those that did so much so you could have your opportunity. Remember that the growth was based on mutual respect between coaches and players, players and players, schools and schools, countries and countries. Keep the respect as well as the fun these opportunities have a chance to give you.
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