Introduction by Chuck Hines, Asheville, North Carolina
Water Polo originated in England in the 1860s and came to the U.S. in 1888. Initially played by men only, the first women's water polo games were played in England and the U.S. in 1901-1902. In the U.S., women began playing in New York State, and the New York Times published articles about women playing polo at the Yorkville Baths, complete with photos, in 1901-1902. Their coach/instructor was Alex Meffert.
The Dutch started playing women's water polo in 1906 and have been playing continuously ever since.
In 1912, at a camp for teenaged girls in Peterborough, New Hampshire, operated by Dr. Dudley Sargent, a Harvard University professor of physical education, water polo was offered and became a popular activity, earning much publicity, as the young girls played outdoors in a lake.
An exhibition game involving two women's teams from Holland was played during the 1920 Olympics at Antwerp, Belgium.
The Young Women's Hebrew Association of Chicago, better known as the YWHA, and the Young Men's Christian Association of Montreal, Canada, better known as the YMCA, fielded women's water polo teams during the 1920s.
Women's water polo also was being played in the 1920s in the Los Angeles area, complete with an AAU-sanctioned "national" tournament, which was discontinued after 1926 as the game was thought to be "too rough" for women and girls. There was some scattered local women's competition through 1931, but due to the depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s, the women's game vanished from the scene except for some continuing action in The Netherlands. A match between the Hilversum and Rotterdam women played in 1947 drew international coverage.
In 1961, Buck and Rosemary Dawson of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Harry Hauck of Detroit revived AAU women's water polo in the U.S. A "national" tournament was held at Patton Pool in Detroit In 1961, involving six teams from Michigan. This event was repeated in 1962 and 1963. Ann Arbor, coached by Rosemary, was the winner of all three tourneys. Other teams entered were Patton Pool, Detroit Denby, Detroit (or American) Turners, the Post A.C., and, in 1963, Flint, Michigan.
The Des Moines, Iowa, YMCA began a water polo program for girls in 1963. This writer was the coach. We had fifteen girls on our roster, and we played our initial games, both indoor and outdoor, against Davenport, Iowa, in 1964.
At that time, Californian Andy Burke was chairing the AAU men's water polo committee, which was a sub-committee of Swimming. At the AAU convention in Detroit, Andy pushed hard and successfully to make water polo into a separate entity, with one committee for the men and another for the women. Andy continued to lead the men and appointed Dave Rivenes of Miles City, Montana, to guide the new women's program. Dave hosted the 1964 AAU women's championships in a roped-off course on the lake in his hometown of Miles City, and his girls finished first.
The next year, 1965, the AAU asked Dave Rivenes to start working to expand its Junior Olympic pro-gram, and Andy Burke appointed me to replace Dave as the women's water polo chairman. We started selecting AAU women's All-America players and added junior national competition for younger girls. As a result, new programs popped up in a dozen communities around the country.
Ruth Johnson of Davenport, Iowa, then took over as chair of the women's water polo committee, and I served as vice-chair, and the sport continued to grow in the mid and late 1960s. The Northern Virginia Aquatic Club, coached by Brian Zimmerman, forged to the top in AAU women's competition, winning a number of senior indoor and outdoor championships. Their chief rival was the Santa Clara Swim Club of California, coached by George Haines. There were several other good teams in northern and southern California, supervised by such coaches as Dave Beaver and Burt
The Midwest still had Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Flint in the mix, plus new teams in Chicago and Quincy, Illinois, and Canton, Illinois, plus several from the St. Louis area, plus the YMCA teams at Des Moines and Davenport in Iowa. It was Davenport, with Ruth Johnson serving as player-coach, that won the YMCA's first "national" tournament in 1967. A year later, Davenport lost in the Y finals, held at East St. Louis, to a young but swift-swimming squad of girls from Houston, Texas, coached by Don Atwood.
As the sport continued to expand, the Palmetto Barracudas from Miami, led by Coach Vince Santo-stefano, made their presence known. This team and the Sheridan Swim Club of Quincy, Illinois, coached by Dan Dittmer, gradually replaced Northern Virginia and Santa Clara as the two best AAU senior wo-men's teams in the country.
In 1969, the first-ever AAU Junior Olympic Water Polo Championships were hosted and financed by the Des Moines YMCA and supervised by Bob Helmick, who went on to become president of the AAU, FINA, and the USOC. There was a single age group, 15-and-under, and teams came from coast to coast to compete. In the boys' category, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, edged Des Moines for the title, with Chicago placing third. In the girls' competition, Portland, Oregon, grabbed the gold medal, with Des Moines securing the silver and Albuquerque, New Mexico, taking home the bronze.
Ruth Johnson concluded her very successful term as the AAU women's water polo chair by promoting the usage of two referees in an attempt to minimize the "roughness" of the game and to maintain an emphasis on swimming speed, finesse, and ball-handling. Thus we in water polo had a strong and positive relationship with the American Swimming Coaches Association, which fully supported our efforts. I was serving as ASCA's water polo chairman and also as the organization's secretary-treasurer and newsletter editor. And so the decade of the 1960s came to a close.
A committee of former AAU and YMCA coaches from the 1960s and 1970s has compiled a list of 60 of the best women water polo players in the U.S. from the 1960s. If we've missed any deserving players, please let us know. We want this list to be as inclusive as possible and to be included in water polo's archives, as these women - most of them were teenaged girls, actually - overcame great adversity to build the sport to where it's at today. We now have official high school, intercollegiate, world, world cup, and Olympic competition available for women and girls, none of which existed in "the old days."
So here's our list of THE BEST from the 1960s:
Water Polo Planet: the Alternative Voice