Water polo program absent as school neglects current pool

State Hornet Staff

When Sacramento State students think of the aquatics program, they often picture the rowing team floating down the American river in perfect unison or the fun summer days spent at the university’s aquatic center at Lake Natomas; popular water sports such as swimming, diving and water polo are widely forgotten.

Sac State has not had a water polo club in over 14 years, back before it was eventually shut down due to lack of club funding.

In 1999 when the water polo club was suspended for not paying their club fees, then club president Philip Waelbrock and other members would practice a few times a week expecting to resume their competitive schedule the following year.

The real problem wasn’t the lack of funding, but the lack of pool space.

Even though the team was optimistic the club would return to form following the suspension, the team knew deep down the current pool they were playing in was just not up to collegiate standards.

Back then, Sac State had a 13-foot-deep diving pool along with the six-lane swimming pool some students still use today. The pool was far smaller than any other regulation-sized water polo pool, causing problems when it came to playing games and scrimmages.

“Practicing has been tough, the pools are too small,” Waelbrock told the State Hornet in an interview back in 1999. “But we’ve been practicing hard, everyone just gets antsy.”

Today, passers-by can still see the rectangle outline of new cement where the old pool used to be, often overlooked and ignored.

It’s not that the Sacramento area isn’t interested in water polo or swimming, it’s really quite the contrary. High schools such as Jesuit High School, Granite Bay High School, Rio Americano High and El Camino High travel all over northern California to play in water polo tournaments and swimming meets, facing the top teams in the state.

“The best high school water polo players in California come from the Sacramento high schools,” Waelbrock said in the same interview. “With increased facilities, the Sac State Water Polo Club could really tap into that talent.”

In fact, California as a whole is a breeding ground for world-class water polo players.

Out of the 111 collegiate water polo programs in the U.S., 78 of them are from California.

The U.S. national men’s water polo team, who placed in second in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was composed of players who played for a California university water polo team during their respective college years.

In Northern California, juggernaut sports programs such as Stanford and Cal-Berkeley are two of the most successful aquatics programs in the nation. It may not get the attention their football, basketball or baseball programs receive, but they take pride in their water polo teams.

Big name schools in California also invest a lot of money into their water programs as well. Berkeley takes the cake as the top-spending water polo program with $1,450,639 spent in 2010 alone according to Kaarme.com.

Stanford, UCLA, and USC are the only other teams in the country to spend over $1 million per year on a water polo program.

Sure, big name schools are going to pay big money for any program, but for the rest of the California collegiate schools, the average amount of money spent per year on a water polo program is around $161,000 – over 150,000 less than the cheapest sport Sac State funds for (men’s and women’s golf).

Football at Sac State accounted for $2,526,780 in funds in 2010 according to Kaarme.com, by far the most of any sport offered. Second to the football program, only basketball competes money-wise, as the sport had $1,456,938 in funds for the 2010 season.

What I would like to see from this school is an appreciation for water sports outside of wakeboarding and swimming “class”.

When The WELL opened up in 2010, many students – me included – were hoping for a new pool. Instead, we get a rock wall, four racquetball courts, a massive gym and an outside golf putting green for golf students and athletes only.

No pool.

Honestly, why not? They already pay for maintenance for the small lap pool behind Yosemite Hall. They spent $72 million on the new WELL, what’s a little more for a water polo/diving/swimming pool?

I know the revenue they can make from a new pool would be in the black, and that’s something the soccer field and football field struggle to do.

Peak Adventures could host SCUBA lessons for students and they can certify students for CPR and lifeguard classes. Once the summer rolls around, the school can provide more jobs for students as lifeguards or swim instructors. Swimming lessons and summer water polo leagues can bring in some good money as well.

All I’m questioning is why has Sac State turned the other way when it comes to rebuilding the water polo team? Do they honestly think a new rock-climbing wall will gain more interest than a new pool?

Russell Preston can be reached at [email protected]