Professional Water Polo More Than A Possibility
by Chris Martin of United States Water Polo
Lake Forest, CA – The surf was up at the beach and in the pool on August 9 in southern California as the first professional water polo game in the United States was held. The two teams competing in this exhibition game were the Newport Beach Wave and the San Francisco Bay, respectively. Before a packed, standing room only crowd of over 1500 people, the Newport Beach Wave ended up winning the game and the $5,000 winner takes all purse, presented by John Hancock Financial Services of Orange County, CA.
“It was a great game, a great standing room only crowd, and an exciting start for a new era in water polo,” said winning coach Joe Vargas, brother of the US National Men’s Water Polo coach John Vargas, who stepped in at the last minute as head coach because coach Jim Cruz had to attend a family emergency.
The new era in water polo will be continuing in the next two years until 1999, when an official four to six team league will be formed. Along with the California teams, south Florida and New York will be fielding teams. During this time the teams will be traveling the California and East Coast playing exhibition games. Once the league is formed the format of the “winner takes all” will more than likely change to a more team friendly format used in other professional sports (I.E. – prizes for 1st place, 2nd place; etc.), according to Bruce Wigo, executive director of United States Water Polo Inc., the sport’s national governing body.
“I think we showed this weekend that there is an audience for professional water polo in the USA,” said USA Water Polo President Bret Bernard. “In the last few months we’ve seen tremendous fan support for elite-level water polo.” Bernard was not only referring to the standing room only crowd of 1500 plus spectators at the inaugural professional game, but the more than 8,000 fans who turned out for the Newport International tournament in May at Corona del Mar, CA.
“When you consider where we’re starting and compare it to the first efforts of beach volleyball, indoor lacrosse and some of the other sports, I think our prospects for success are good,” said Bruce Wigo.
Water Polo fans in the United States are just getting a glimpse of what hopefully will be a long, promising future of the fastest growing water sport in the country.