Boys Water Polo Underwater As Aquatics Participation Drops


Caroline Kirkland

The girls swim team, one of Latin’s aquatics programs, stands by the Greg Baker pool.

March has officially begun, and with it, a buzz seems to hang in the air of Latin’s halls. Whether anticipation of Project Week and subsequent spring break, anxiety about midterms, or excitement at the beginning of a new sports season, it seems like the Upper School population is running on one big adrenaline rush.

Yet as students make their way back onto the turf after winter, athletics bags begin to litter the Pit, and gym time becomes a coveted commodity, one sport’s season has been sadly canceled: boys water polo. A water polo team requires seven people to be able to play, and this year, Latin’s boys team couldn’t get the numbers it needed.

For those who aren’t familiar with water polo, the sport is, as Latin Swim Coach and Aquatics Director Danielle Carlson said, “a very fun fast-paced game, played seven on seven, similar to soccer, but obviously with the added element of swimming.”

Last year, the boys water polo team scraped by with just seven players, and after the cancellation of this season, the team wants to be back next year with many new athletes. “It’s looking better next year and the year after that based on the Middle School numbers,” Ms. Carlson said.

It goes without saying that the team members who did sign up are disappointed. Senior and intended captain of the boys water polo team Hugh McKee said, “It stinks to see how people are kind of moving away from it.”

Similarly, Ms. Carlson said, “It’s a little heartbreaking. The ones who want to play and are dedicated are 100 percent in, but obviously, you can’t have a team if you can’t fill a full roster. My heart really breaks for them.”

However, the boys water polo team’s struggle with attendance is far from unique; all aquatic sports at Latin have seen a drop in numbers post-COVID, with the girls water polo team comprised of just eight people this season. Eight is enough, but just barely. The low numbers mean that each athlete has to be in the pool for most to all of every game.

Freshman water polo player and swimmer Lucia Meno said, “The thing about aquatics is that it really benefits your team to have a lot more people.” Specifically, when discussing swimming, she said, “If you have more people, you can spend all your energy on one or two events, but we’re forced to take three or four every meet, and then you can’t go as fast as you would’ve liked to in every race.”

The struggle for players in aquatics sports comes down to one big factor: COVID. “The pools in the pandemic were closed for two, two-and-a-half years depending,” Ms. Carlson said, “so a lot of people lost complete access during that time and had to pivot to sports that were still operating.” She continued, “Water polo is a contact sport where you can’t wear a mask, so water polo definitely suffered a lot more than swimming.”

The lack of access to practice space and subsequent turn away from aquatics sports for many means that the players left on the swimming and water polo teams are each quite dedicated. “We frequently have some of the nicest kids in the school,” Ms. Carlson said. “They definitely don’t shy away from hard things.”

Lucia said, “Even the first day, [when] I met everybody, everybody was just really amazing.” “Everybody kind of gets to improve together.” The kindness and grit of the students who choose to play aquatic sports despite setbacks is appreciated extensively by their team members.

Additionally, although Latin’s aquatics teams might be hurting for players, the school’s Greg Baker Pool ensures that team members can consistently and conveniently practice and improve. As Hugh said, “We have such a great facility; we’re really lucky to have the pool, [and] we have awesome coaches. It’s a really great sport that I just don’t think people talk about enough.”

Freshman Dash Miglin agreed, saying, “I think that more people should join the water polo team, because it’s a really fun sport and [I think] it’s better than all the other sports offered during the spring season.”

Latin’s swim and water polo teams are also very welcoming to new players. Ms. Carlson said, “Every year we have kids in swimming who come out brand new, like, no previous swim team experience [or] very little swim experience, and honestly, if you’re willing to put on a swimsuit every day and give it your best effort, our coaches are happy to teach.”

Similarly, Hugh said, “I was not athletic at all, and it immediately built up my confidence. It attracts such a great group of people, and it built up my strength a lot. It’s really nice having that sport and being able to build it through all four years.

He added, “Right now, it’s an automatic varsity sport, and you’re going to be in the best shape you’ve ever been in. There’s no downsides to it—truly. You just gotta jump in!”