Look Before You Leap: Update on the state of the water polo season

Melia Rasmussen, Sports Editor

When the excitement of fall sports beginning was in the air about a month ago, some still stood behind the red light as their sport had not been greenlighted yet. 

     Pools remained off-limits as the state of aquatic sports were not defined in the season calendar created by the Oregon School Activities Association. Water polo athletes were tired of waiting on the sidelines for their turn to play. Lake Oswego High School even went as far as to make a petition compiled of statistics about water polo, and shared it with surrounding schools. The petition stated chlorine kills germs in the pool, and chloramines, a compound most commonly used in disinfectant supplies, hovered above the surface of the water were also germ killing agents. Yet, even with 17,000 signatures obtained within two days, the main concern of  Governor Brown’s office was that water polo was classified as a contact sport. 

“I just hope that the athletes will have a good time, they’ll have fun. I hope to try to teach them the game and help them learn to play as a team.””

— Coach Rob Nelke

     “In Italy, which was probably one of the worst hit European countries, they did a study of sports of some 400 sports and water polo was deemed, by their organization, to be the safest sport to play with COVID,” water polo coach Rob Nelke said. “But they didn’t care about that…. All that they were concerned about was the contact.”

     With limited options, Nelke turned to other sports in similar situations, such as hockey, which proposed altering their rules enough to be classified as a non-contact sport. Nelke received advice from hockey officials to appeal to Governor Brown’s office. Representative Shelly Boschart Davis, Nelke said,  was extremely helpful in communicating and being a voice. As well as Senator Jeff Merkley, whose son played water polo when he was in high school and got Nelke connected in his dad’s office in regards to the sport guidelines.

“Pool times are really scarce right now because they have to spread everything out.””

— Coach Rob Nelke

     “I just hope that the athletes will have a good time, they’ll have fun. I hope to try to teach them the game and help them learn to play as a team,” Nelke said. 

     The gameplay has changed significantly, but Nelke was confident that his athletes could continue to persevere  through the troubles. Some of the adjustments Nelke said include staying three feet apart and not initiating contact with the opponent. The player can still hold their hand up to block a pass or shot, but the referees, Nelke said, are officiating the games in a way that if somebody attempts to grab the ball or move someone else, it will be a foul. 

     “[The season will] be seven weeks long and due to pool time available in Albany, we are only going to have three home games,” Nelke said. “Pool times are really scarce right now because they have to spread everything out.” 

     Pool space is so limited that four of the teams in their league can’t play. The Young Mens’ Christian Association (YMCA) and the Albany Public Community Pool are available to the athletes, however they can only have games on Wednesdays due to scheduling. 

     “We’ve had to adapt, sometimes we’ve had Zoom-only meetings, sometimes we’ve had to go outside and have outdoor meetings,” Nelke said. “I’m excited…and looking forward to see them get back into the water even though it’s going to be different.”