Lest We Forget: Pioneer Coaches of Women's Water Polo
I went out for high school swimming in my junior year at Coral Gables High School (1958-59). At that time there was no water polo in Florida or the South that I know of. I know Johnny Weissmuller did some exhibition swimming at Venetian Pool in the 20's or 30's and I don't know if there was any water polo involved.
I joined the Coral Gables Swimming Association coached by Bill Burrell, Sr. Our swimming teams were very successful. I graduated in 1960. I went on to Georgia Tech to study electrical engineering and swim for the Yellow Jackets, and I came home in 1961 to find that Archie Chesneau was our club coach.
Archie was an elementary school P.E. teacher and swim parent who took over the CGSA team. I worked for Archie in the summers and discovered my calling was in coaching and teaching and not in engineering, thanks to him. I transferred to Fla. State to major in biology, swim, and to become certified to teach. I did my internship at Gables H.S. and was hired in December 1965 when I officially became the assistant swimming coach. During this time, Archie was encouraging local club and high school coaches (myself included) to add water polo to their swim programs to break up the long high school season, then from August/Sept through the State Championship the first weekend in May. I became the head coach of Gables H.S. in 1966-67 and the senior swimming coach and water polo coach for Coral Gables Swimming Association.
During the 1966-67 school year several of us H.S./club coaches began competing in water polo even though we did not know what we were doing. Besides myself there was Cav Cavanaugh at Coral Park, Errol Seegars at Palmetto, Terri Greene at North Miami, George Dugaan at Miami High, Henry Adams at Carol City, and Bill Diaz at Miami Springs. We were all swimmers (except Bill Diaz, who they say cannot even swim) without any water polo experience at all. I'm not certain that all these coaches competed that first year, but if not then they competed the second year. Additionally there was Janice Krauser and her team at South Broward, I think.
I was fortunate in having Bill Burrell, Jr. return from Foothill Community College (coached by Nort Thornton) during Christmas and other breaks, and he taught me ball handling and strategy fundamentals he'd learned there. I taught it to our HS swimmers and age groupers. Additionally the College Swim Forum and early ASCA clinics also featured knowledgeable water polo coaches who gave clear and excellent presentations.
During the second year of high school water polo, we had referees who were not the coaches themselves, and we scheduled games in the fall. We also were playing age group water polo at Sheeler-Winton swimming pool. We had two simultaneous age group games going on at each end of the pool. Kathy Horne and Jenny Thompson were good age group swimmers. With their teammates, they pretty much beat everyone they played handily.
Within a year or two of this, I believe that Rob DeVust arrived in Ft. Lauderdale from one of Holland's strong water polo clubs (national team?), and we amateurs had to compete against someone who really knew the game.
Some of us were involved on the Florida Gold Coast AAU Executive Committee representing water polo, and somehow we hosted a Senior Women's National Championship in 1969 at the Westbrook Country Club in Miami. The pool was "W" shaped with 50 meters one way and 55 yards the other. I entered Coral Gables featuring our 1968 State Champion high school water polo girls, and Kathy Horne played for us in her first senior nationals as a defender at just 12 years old. Our girls were no match for the likes of the Sheridan Swim Club or the champion that year, Northern Virginia Aquatic Club. I think Linda Longo was their goalie; she had had a baby 6 or 8 weeks before, and she dominated in the Goal. Barbara Fisher may have been their hole set that year.
We also had gained another coach with water polo experience, Vince Santostefano, about this time. He worked with Errol Seegars at Palmetto High and coached a women's team called the Miami Barracudas. I'm not certain if they played that tournament, but they could have. I know that sometime soon after that, Vince divorced and married Barbara Fisher who then played holeset for the Barracudas. Thus began a long series of battles between Coral Gables Swimming Association and the Miami Barracudas that in truth were battles between Barbara Santostefano and young Kathy Horne. Other AAU swim clubs were featuring age group water polo, and our area became more and more competitive.
The next year, 1969-1970, I went to Indiana University for my masters in anatomy & physiology and an opportunity to hang around Doc Councilman's IU swimming team. As a graduate student, I played polo with Gary Hall, Mark Spitz, and others. I had lots of knowledge and experience by now, but that is not really the same thing as playing. Needless to say, the world record-holding swimmers had very little trouble with me in the pool.
I returned to Coral Gables in 1970-71 and continued where I had left off. In the summer of 1971, we took girls and boys 15 & under teams to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the National Junior Olympics. We had two seasoned teams with experienced boys and girls. One adventure was getting Sallie Thomas to join us. She had gone to summer camp in Maine, but her mom made arrangements to her to join us if we got the needed grant from the City of Coral Gables ($3,000) to assist with travel expenses. The City did so at the last minute while Sallie was on a camping trip with the girls from her cabin in the mountains of Maine. A forest ranger tracked her down and they got her to an airport where she flew to join the rest of of. It was quite an adventure with Mrs. Chesneau serving as the girls chaperone and driver of the second car in Albuquerque. We had nine girls and nine boys in two cars! The girls won, beating Chuck Hines' Asheville Y team 8-6, and the boys were third, and we met some extremely nice people who made us feel at home throughout the tournament. Kathy won the MVP.
Chuck's warmth and graciousness at the awards dinner made our kids feel special at the end of the JOs. I am sorry to say that no one has topped him yet at making kids feel special. I remember those moments for those players very fondly.