Volume 2 Number 1 Sandy Nitta June 1, 2008

Sandy NittaAge 15 made US Olympic Swim Team - 200 mt Breaststroke.
City of Commerce: Novice Swim Coach & Life Guard - AAU Swim Coach & Senior Guard -    Water Polo Coach & Pool Manager then promoted to Aquatic/Recreation Supervisor. Began the City of Commerce Water Polo  Team in 1971.
1977 Hosted the 1st International Women's Tournament - which began the planning for    Women's International Competitions for the future.
1979 1st USA Junior National Head Coach.
1980 USA Senior National Coach to 1994.
   (On the FINA sub committee which helped promote women's water polo in the world -    made rule changes for women's water polo - smaller ball, shorter course - improved    the professional aspects of women;s water  polo.)
Member of the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame.
Head Coach for Queensland, Australia State Team
Head Coach for Brasil - Coached in the 1st Pan Am Game for Women (Coached Brasil to    it's 1st win ever over the USA).
Head Coach Team Vegas 1994 to 1999.
Head Coach Tualatain Water Polo in Oregon (coached Elsie Windes).
Head Coach Team Vegas/Henderson 2004 to present.
Coach former players to the Gold Medal at the Masters World Championships in 2006.
Event Director of the Master Festival for USAWP.
Member of the USAWP Hall of Fame Committee.
Member of the USAWP Master Committee.

Still love the sport at all levels - this summer I am coaching a 10 & Under Coed team at Junior Olympics!!!

Remembrance of Things Past


I began working at Commerce as an Instructor/Guard and was asked to coach the novice swim team because of my swimming background as member of the USA Olympic Swim Team.  A few years later I was promoted to the AAU Swimming Head Coach. The swim team worked really hard for two years without a break. The team placed at Junior Olympics and was by far the best year the swim team has ever had. So I gave the team a two week break after JO’s. When it was time to come back I found I had lost 5-6 swimmers to other sports, so the following August I did not give the team time off  but offered a water polo program as my swim coach (Don Gambril) did every year.  This way they could not find other things to do from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. - Monday to Friday. So, “Commerce Water Polo” was invented.  Little did I know what was about to come.

On the first day of water polo practice we had no equipment.  So I went out and purchased 1 water polo ball, we use tall plastic trash cans and filled them up with water and place then on the deck.  We had no water polo caps they just had to remember who was on whose team.  I made the water polo flag by sawing a broom stick in half and tacked on a pair of Lost and Found Blue shorts and white boxer shorts (washed of course).

The kids pick up the game quickly; they had that certain drive to make them aggressive and had great ball sense.  We joined the SPA Age Group league that ran from September to November (the same one Mary and Stan Sprague still run).  Our first game was against Palos Verde a very rich area in the hills over looking the Pacific Ocean.  When we walked into the pool area, Carmen Bejarano Smith (who later became Commerce’s 1st member on the USA Women’s Senior National Team) asked me where their trash cans are. And what are those things in the water?  (Those things were real Goals)!

We won all our games except against FAST – this was coached by Stan Sprague and he had players on his team that I played with (Lyn Taylor, Marsha McCuen, Melissa McCuen) so they were very good.  The first two times we did manage to score 1 goal in each game by some kind of trick play.  The old “my ball – no your ball”, the other goal came from a half court shot after we lined up at half.  But the third time we played FAST we beat them by 1 goal in overtime, and thus began what everyone knows today as “The Commerce Team”.

During our early years my Commerce players had it very rough; being Mexican American, the battle on the scoreboard was just half the battle.  Commerce is located in a business district East of Los Angeles.  When we went to tournaments and did well, many of the teams did not like the idea poor Mexican kids could beat them and usually ended in some type of scene in the locker rooms.  The first time was when I took my boys to a tournament at the LA Coliseum and after our last game I waited for the guys in the City of Commerce Van.  One of the boys, Louie Bejarano ran out to the van and told me the other team wanted to fight with us…..  I told Louie to get Jack (our biggest player) I told Jack that he was to stand in front and the rest of you guys stand close or behind him.  Tell the other team if you want to fight us you fight us as a team…. They backed down.  Their first lesson in what a TEAM could do.

Commerce Water Polo Team

Another time we hosted Women’s Junior National at Commerce and finished playing FAST.  Two of the younger players came out and told me “Sandy, FAST is sing the Mexican Hat Dance Song and making fun of us”  Desi Zepeda and Iris Rivera wanted to fight them… I told them the same thing “Stand together as a team and challenge them”.   The FAST players also backed down and later some of those players became their friends – Vicky Barker was one of them and turned out to be friends with many of the Commerce girls.  Another great team lesson learned out of the water.

The City of Commerce paid for all the expenses for the swimmers and water polo players – things such as Sweats, Towels, T-shirts; they did not have to pay for anything but their own swim suits.  The City also paid for all their travel (air – hotel – meals – car rentals – entry fees etc).  During my time coaching the Commerce teams I made the kids raise money to purchase materials to make our goals, we raised over $5,000.00 from a Swim-A-Thon for the United Way.  We held Spaghetti Dinners along with Slave Sales to raise money to put on our Annual Christmas Dinner/Party/Show for the parents and City Council Members.  I did not want the players getting used to having everything handed to them on a silver platter.  I believe this gave the players a sense of self worth which they would need later in life.

When I made the USA Olympic Swim Team I swam for the City of Commerce, they paid for all of our travels and most of our expense.  In 1965 we won the AAU Women’s Swimming National Championships and a few months after our victory they dropped their sponsorship.  At the time I was upset and did not understand why they dropped us after winning the National Championship & getting 3 swimmers on the Olympic Team.  Not until two years later when I began working for the City of Commerce as a Life Guard/Instructor and became the Novice Swim Coach did I understand why they dropped their sponsorship.  The people who lived in the City were hard working and just wonderful people with great family support!!  I know if the City continued the support of swimmers outside of the City of Commerce the local residents would not had the opportunity to be successful successes in swimming and water polo.

We would not know of the following players making the USA National Team:  Carmen Bejarano Smith, Yolanda Gascon, Margo Miranda, Anabel Barragan, April Gascon, Rose Davalos, Tina Bejarano, Julie Davalos, Debbie Powell, Theresa Gonzales, and Laura Ruiz.  All these players were just during my time at Commerce.  There have been so many others who have come thru the Commerce program who not only made National Teams but have gotten college scholarships or the opportunity to attend college. 

This October we are having a Commerce Reunion for all the swimmers and water polo players from 1971 to 1980.  We are going to have a great time talking about the good ole days….  I will bet you we don’t talk much about the game itself but of our great times and lasting friendships!!

Lest We Forget: Pioneers of Women's Water Polo

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