I coached the Queens College Women’s Water Polo Team from 1982 – 1991, (helping them to obtain varsity status in 1984), and also during the 1998 season. During the 1998 season the women won the New York Division and earned their first bid to Easterns. I was the coach of the Queens College Men’s Water Polo from 1979 – 1991, alternating occasionally with my brother Marc as the Head or the Assistant Coach. I came out of retirement for one season in 1997 as their Head Coach and the men’s team won the Eastern Championship and went on to place third at Nationals. Co-coached both the men's and women's East Olympic Festival Teams to second place finishes. About once a week I still go down to Queens College to help out coaching the men’s and women’s water polo teams. I was the president of the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference for two years in the mid 1980’s. I began my playing career at Queens College where I played from 1968 – 1972. I then played for the Westchester Queens Water Polo Team for almost 15 years, sometimes serving as the player/coach of this team that was founded by my brother Marc. I am currently a Professor of Mathematics at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in New York where I have been teaching for the past 27 years. My wife Kathy and I live in Plainview, Long Island with our two children Alyssa (16) and Robert (14) both of whom play only land sports and neither of which can swim very well. We love them anyway.
Queens College Women’s Water Polo
Before I begin the actual article, I would like to apologize for any inaccuracies that appear here. Over my thirty years of playing and coaching water polo many of the games and teams blend together. However, I assure you that the flavor of the article is accurate.
Queens College, is a four-year public college located in Queens, New York City. When I first began coaching water polo in 1979 at Queens College it was a Division III school with no scholarships. There was no help at all from the Admissions Office with “recruits”, and students were required to have over an 85 high school average together with combined SAT scores over 1100 as well. There was virtually no age group or high school water polo being played in New York City at the time, and certainly no girl’s water polo. The men’s team had been a varsity sport for many years, originally coached by Dr. Allen Feld (my coach at Queens from 1968 – 1972) but there was no women’s team. This changed in 1983 when Maureen Travers, then a woman swimmer at Queens, came to me and said that she wanted to try out for the men’s water polo team. Maureen was tough minded and tough bodied, and since not a single one of the men’s team’s players had any water polo experience prior to college, it was not such an unrealistic endeavor. She not only made the team but she became a solid contributor as well. Maureen traveled with the team on the school van and survived many practical but good-natured jokes, and went on to become the head swimming and water polo coach at Whittier College in California.
In 1986, due to the interest of Maureen Travers and her swim team friends, and with the approval of Queens College Athletic Director, Dr. Richard Wettan, a women’s water polo club team was started with me as their coach. My salary for coaching men’s swimming, men’s water polo, and women’s water polo was $900.00 for the year. My brother Marc helped me out as a $1 per year volunteer coach. At this time I was still playing club water polo myself and my days were pretty long: In the fall, I ran swim practice for the men three days per week from 5:30 – 7:00am, then drove 25 miles to teach mathematics classes at the C.W Post Campus of Long Island University from 8:00am – 2:00pm, drove back to Queens College to run swim practice from 3:30 – 5:00pm followed by men’s water polo practice from 5:00 – 7:30pm. Two nights per week I drove to my own polo practices and returned home around 11:00pm. Weekends were filled with tournaments (many with 5 –7 hour van rides with me as the driver) that I either played in, coached the men’s team or the women’s team in, or some combination of all three. In the spring, I only had to teach my classes from 8:00am – 2::00 pm and run water polo practices in the afternoons for two teams from 3:00pm – 7:30pm and then go to my own practices twice per week. It felt like I was on vacation without the morning swim practices. Today I am exhausted just thinking about such a schedule but back then I loved every minute of it. In fact, I can make the following statement unconditionally: There was NEVER a single practice that I played in or coached that I did not enjoy. And it certainly wasn’t because of the money.
The women’s team was allowed to represent the school but it had no budget, and I got no extra pay for coaching them. However, I was permitted to use the men’s team budget for the women’s team’s expenses. The men’s varsity team played their official NCAA season in the fall and they had a non-NCAA spring schedule. Any money left over from their fall budget was used for the spring season. The total budget for the men’s team was $1500.00. This included all travel expenses, entry fees, and equipment. The men’s and women’s team members were all really good friends and the men did not complain about sharing their budget with the women even though it meant having the entire men’s team stay in one hotel room on each of the spring season trips. The women’s team had another room and the coach(es) had a third room. The coaches and a few players would enter the hotel lobby, register for three rooms, and then the rest of the team would sneak upstairs through a back entrance. We had as many as 14 players in one room. But on many trips the women’s team slept on gym floors and in people’s houses. Of course this meant I had to reciprocate when women’s teams visited New York. My 700 square foot, one bedroom apartment in Rego Park, Queens was home to such teams as Slippery Rock, the Canadian National Team and the University of Rhode Island. People slept on every available surface including the bathtub.
Queens College had no on campus housing (and still doesn’t today) or off campus housing for athletes. Therefore, all athletes were local and since as I mentioned above there was no age group women’s polo in the area, all players were introduced to the game in college. I explained the rules, the positions, etc. and I especially tried to show patience. I remember the dismay on their faces when I told them they all had to cut their nails or they couldn’t play. They did it but not happily. I was young and healthy enough to go in the water with the team in those days and I would come a half hour early just to work with the 2-meter person. I made sure to keep the practices interesting but challenging and I never yelled at anyone in those beginning weeks while we prepared for our first game. Then the big day came, we were playing in our first official game, and as to be expected, at the end of the first quarter we were being massacred.. The score was a lot to zero and there really wasn’t much to say to them about strategy since the other team was so much better than us. They pressed us all over the pool, they held us, they laned us, and we could not advance the ball. It was very frustrating. After this first quarter I said some things like, “try and get a foul, drive ball side to help out the woman who is under pressure,” and other stock coaching lines, but nothing worked because we just didn’t have the skills or the experience to handle the pressure they were putting on us. At half time I decided to take a different approach – I sat them all down, and for the first time, I yelled at them. I told them that they may not win this game but they needed to stop playing like wimps and to find some heart. At this point the entire team started to cry – actual tears. My volunteer assistant from the men’s team, Robert Underberg, climbed over a ledge so he could laugh without the team seeing him. I wanted to do the same. The second half started and seven crying women took the field. But it was seven aggressive women that finished that first losing effort. They played with spirit and they played with heart. I told them I was proud of them, and I was. From that time on I would always start each of my seasons with a brief speech about what I expected from any team that I coached – smart play and a never, never quit attitude. Nothing less would be tolerated. The women that followed had no problem with these rules. A few years later one of my Queens College teams won the New York Division of our conference and earned an automatic bid to the Eastern Water Polo Championships, not an easy accomplishment for a team composed of women every one of which was introduced to the game of water polo after they entered college.
Along the way I met some terrific women who either played for me or played against my teams. Today I still go down to Queens College to help out the current coach, Joe McCommins. Most of Joe’s players are recruited, the team has its own budget, he has a few scholarships, and there is off- campus housing for the athletes. It is still not an easy job coaching women’s water polo at Queens College but at least most of the players come with experience and the players no longer cry when they are yelled at.
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