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More fringe-like sports like water polo and lacrosse could become sanctioned by the WIAA if they pursue a two-year trial process

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association recently announced several changes to amendments and one in particular could add more sports to the high school sports scene.

Both water polo and lacrosse have seen increased participation among student-athletes thanks to grassroots efforts by athletes themselves and access to quality coaching.

Amendment No. 3 allows the WIAA Executive Board to approve a two-year trial of a new activity based on documentation of the following criteria; 

  • 20 percent of member schools commit to adding the sport during the first year of the trial
  • Reasons for requesting the sanction of the sport
  • An estimated cost-vs.-benefit analysis based on student participation, member schools, leagues and districts during the trial
  • An estimated increase in the student participation due to adding the sport
  • If 40 percent of WIAA member schools offer the sport during the second year of the trial, the activity would be sanctioned by the association

South Kitsap water polo coach Zack Fogel said any opportunity to see the sport grow would be welcomed by the water polo community.

“I would love to see it as a fully-sanctioned sport,” Fogel said, adding the sport has done well in a club setting but consistency and support is tough for some schools solely because it is an un-sanctioned WIAA sport.

“At South Kitsap I enjoy a lot of support from the school and greater community, regardless of our status,” Fogel said, adding he gets great athlete turnout and much of that is word of mouth. “Kids know me and try it out. They love the game and have fun and tell their friends.”

Fogel said he regularly has enough players to field three seven-member teams and his roster is 30-40 full and it is rare to get a player who has had any exposure to the sport.

“Most of the athletes I coach are starting from the very beginning,” he said. “My hope would be that adding water polo as a WIAA sport might create more opportunities for our sport to be more widely known. I must admit that, outside of California and a few other small areas of the country, water polo is rarely played. I find that strange seeing as this is one of the most exciting and demanding sports played at the Olympics.”

Water polo could be a sport that the WIAA sanctions if the sport chooses to conduct a two-year trial and if the numbers pan out. (istock.com)

But Fogel knows the sport is on the fringe and several key parameters are required — namely a pool and year-round access to it. That in itself has been a specific issue for South Kitsap which has had its pool shut down for maintenance for extended periods of time. He admits to wondering where his teams will practice when the pool is closed for an upcoming $5M remodel. Fogel hopes he’ll be able to shift to Bangor or PSNS and use their pools, but is also considering Gig Harbor and Peninsula High School’s pools.

The addition of a sport that requires a very specific venue is the biggest drawback for a WIAA trial. South Kitsap also struggles to find officials pool time and equipment. There are about 30 schools that have water polo teams in the state, with the majority in the greater Puget Sound region. While that saves some time and travel costs, there is still difficulty in finding enough pool time for practice and games. Water polo competes with public use (swimming lessons, open swims), high school swimming, club swimming, Master swimming and synchronized swimming. When the boys water polo season is in session, it competes with the high school girls swimming season and vice versa.

“I’m lucky that SKHS has a pool big enough to safely divide into two, but we still need to share our time and space with the swim and dive team,” Fogel said. “If we were somehow able to add more teams to the league it would certainly tax the system we’ve got.

But the upside could be tremendous over a period of time.

“I think we would benefit in the long term,” Fogel said. “More teams would mean more players and a wider audience, which in turn would mean more people with experience to become coaches and officials.”

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