By WARREN DILLAWAY - email@example.com
HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP —
A desire to spread the love of water polo to the entire country is one of the big reasons Spire Institute was able to host the Olympic Development Program Water Polo East/West Regional Championships this weekend.
“Part of our mission is to grow the sport,” Jennifer Rottenberg, chief marketing officer for USA Water Polo, said. She said finding new areas to showcase the sport is essential to its development.
It didn’t hurt that Ashley Papenbrock, Olympic Development Events Manager, is from Ohio.
“I am originally from Columbus and I wanted to bring an event to Ohio and I did,” she said with a laugh.
Rottenberg said there are almost 40,000 registered water polo players throughout the United States, with 30,000 of them — 75 percent, residing in California.
California has its own developmental championships and the rest of the country are broken up into six zones and gather for regional competition where coaches can watch for talent and the girls can learn more skills, Rottenberg said.
Splash Ball has been developed to try and get 5- to 9-year-old children involved in the sport.
“It is kind of tee-ball,” she said of the relaxed rules and ability to sit on a flotation device.
The final destination for many of these young athletes is the selective national and Olympic teams.
In addition to the need for strength, endurance and size water polo players need to be mentally alert as well.
“You have to see what is happening,” Paperback said.
Many of the participants from Florida and the Southwest got an added bonus for their trip to Northeast Ohio. They were able to experience snow.
“The kids loved the snow,” Jim Boss, director of Acquatics for Spire Institute, said. “The parents; probably not so much.”
While the athletes are honing their skills, future officials are refining their craft, as well, Anne Laurence, Olympic Development Program manager, said. She said officials are watched by senior officials so they can learn from their mistakes.
Coaches are also looking to pick athletes to make a total of 70 girls to participate in a four-day training camp in Southern California in May, Woman Olympic Development Program National Technical Director Kim Everist said.
“There are a number of categories that we are evaluating,” she said.
She said physical attributes, attitude, mental acquity, technical skills and tactical skills are all taken into consideration.
“We engage in a lot of discussion with their coaches,” Everist said.
The final step is a four-day training camp where 28 athletes, in each age group, are tutored and fine-tuned.
The same procedure then starts over as the athlete moves to the next grade, Everist said.
Two teams will be picked for International competition, with one 19-and-under team heading to Greece for the World Junior Nationals and a mixed 17-and-under team heading to Argentina.
Madison Berggren, 16, of Salem, Oregon, said she started playing water polo three years ago when a friend asked her to join the team.
She doesn’t play any other sports now that she has fallen in love with the sport.
“I just do this all the time. I love it,” Berggren said. “I love how centered around team it is.”