Fan in the Stands: The Passion of Pomona-Pitzer Fans

Goalie Daniel Diemer of Pomona-Pitzer vs. Brown. Photo Courtesy: Andrea Gross

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

CAMBRIDGE, MA. 40 or so family and friends of the Pomona-Pitzer men’s water polo team descended last weekend on Boston from all over the country for a series of matches between their Sagehens and East Coast teams, including Brown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and MIT.

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Cecil the Sagehen

“We like traveling East. It’s fun and gives us an opportunity to get away from home,” said Beth Abrams, whose son Zach Senator is sophomore attacker from Pacific Palisades, three hours away from Pomona’s Southern California location. “Our team doesn’t often make a trip like this so we thought we’d go for it.’

At Harvard’s Blodgett Pool on Sunday morning, Abrams and her fellow parents’ devotion was richly rewarded. Pomona-Pitzer earned a hard-fought 7-6 victory over #19 Brown, with parents, siblings, friends and casual observers pulled into the excitement of one of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s more unusual sports.

“We call him the ‘Danimal!’”

David Deimer—whose son Daniel is the team’s animated goalie—is clearly a source of his offspring’s exuberance. As the younger Deimer punctuates outstanding saves with fist pumps, David, dressed in school colors, is equally vocal, alternately shouting praise for the players or hurling scorn at the referees.

Photo Courtesy: Andrea Gross

Pomona-Pitzer fans at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool. Photo Courtesy: Andrea Gross

As the final quarter winds to a close, frustrated Brown parents have had enough. One berates him for what she deems behavior unfit for water polo. Deimer, clearly not a fan who turns the other cheek, responds with a not-so-friendly gesture, further inflaming the Bear faithful, who have the compounded indignity of watching their team—once ranked as high as #14 nationally—fall to a team most of them have never heard of.

Afterwards, taking in the surprisingly balmy New England weather outside Blodgett, Deimer turns out to be as congenial up close as he was combative during the match. Traveling from St. Louis, not known as a hotbed for the sport, Deimer and his wife Kathyrn seem genuinely thrilled to be right where they are in this particular moment.

“We call him the ‘Danimal!’” he announces, articulating his son’s nickname with a pride of ownership.

“The California team travels well!” Deimer then crows, gesturing to the large gaggle of blue and orange-clad fans. When asked why he came East, the doctor-turned-polo-fanatic quips: “I was hoping Harvard would rub off on me and I’d get smarter.”

David’s mother—decidedly more reserved than her husband—expresses awe at her son’s performance.

“The most amazing things is that they have to come back right after they’re scored on,” said Kathyrn Diemer. “That’s just what he does.”

It’s dad’s turn again. “It’s tough to be a parent and watch water polo,” Diemer admits.

In Unity, There’s Strength.

If there’s a strong bond between water polo families—and this group appears as tightly knit as an extended family—it’s perhaps a by-product of both polo’s postage-stamp scale at the intercollegiate level as well as how hard it is to play. Only 49 men’s teams are eligible to compete for the NCAA men’s national championship—meaning perhaps 750 varsity athletes in the entire country.

“The school spirit for [Pomona-Pitzer] athletics has been increasing year-to-year and our water polo group is tight,” explains Beth Abrams. “Our team is like a family. We all eat together and hang out.”

One specific unifier for this geographically diverse group is the allure of an elite academic institution that offers their sons a chance to play polo at the country’s highest level. Pomona-Pitzer’s roster represent almost every water polo-playing region in the country, from the East (Maryland and Pennsylvania) to the Midwest (Illinois and Missouri) to California, the mecca for American polo. Even Puerto Rico is represented.

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Sagehens at rest. Photo Courtesy: Andrea Gross

Consisting of two of the best private liberal arts institutions in the country—Pomona and Pitzer, both members of the Claremont Colleges consortium—the schools field joint teams that not only compete in DIII athletics, when it comes to water polo they excel.

The Sagehens are 13-9 so far this season, including a 4-1 record in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC). Four of their losses came at the hands of the country’s best: #1 USC, #2 UCLA, #4 Stanford and #14 Princeton.

Despite being one of the NCAA’s smaller varsity programs, the Sagehens played big last year, capturing a bid to the 2016 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament. They faced eventual champs Cal in a play-in match for the Final Four, losing 16-6 in Berkeley.

“Pretty cool for a Division III team to get there,” said Diemer, who, due to nerves, did not make that trip.

“I was at home in diapers,” he joked.

Wither the noble Sagehen?

When quizzed about what the school mascot represents, it was Stuart Senator who revealed the greatest depth of knowledge.

“It’s a species of bird—not yet extinct—and it lives a bit north of Pomona,” Zach’s father said. “I’ve never personally run across one but we should hold a Sagehen banquet one of these days.”

In fact, there is a real-life corollary to Cecil the Sagehen, as the Pomona-Pitzer mascot is known. According to Wikipedia, the “Greater Sage Grouse” is a “ground-dwelling bird that can reach two feet in height and 30 inches in length.” Its distinguishing trait? A long-pointed tail.

What distinguishes this current crop of Sagehens are the bonds between and passion among parents that is both exceptional as well as all-to-familiar to polo fans. What will ultimately make the team special is success in conference play and beyond.

“We’ve seen the trajectory of them getting better and better,” said Kathyrn Diemer of Pomona-Pitzer’s season thus far. “We’re excited for more.”

Chances are, wherever the team goes, their parents will be along for the ride.

13 Comments

13 comments

  1. avatar
    Michael

    Curious if you will write an article about #12 st. Francis losing to 2 unranked teams this weekend, both of which are relatively inferior. Is this the sign of inflaming the st Francis Imploding against pathetic teams? And for the re off, Pomona-Pitzer is a very relevant program with one of the best coaches in the country.

  2. avatar
    Michael

    Curious if you will write an article about #12 st. Francis losing to 2 unranked teams this weekend, both of which are relatively inferior. Is this a sign of st Francis Imploding against pathetic teams? Maybe they should go back to playing in their shallow deep pool where they scratch out wins against better teams? And Pomona-Pitzer is a very relevant program with one of the best coaches in the country.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi: I appreciate your comments – and nothing like rubbing salt in the wounds of a Terrier fan! Yes, I DID note that St. Francis had a tough trip West; clearly they are not ready for prime-time. We shall see if they rebound from this. Or not.

      Couple of points: the NCAA sanctions shallow/deep pools. Are you suggesting that it’s unfair that St. Francis benefits from their home pool (which over the past decade or so has been a HUGE advantage – https://patch.com/new-york/fortgreene/st-francis-college-water-polo-11year-home-winning-streak-ends)?

      Second; later this week my interview w/Sagehen HC Alex Rodriguez will appear.

      Third, I assume you’re a knowledgeable WP fan; my perspective IS from the East – which I think anyone with some history in the sport knows is vastly inferior to the West. BUT, I do believe that all fans (and the NCAA too!) want M/WWP to be national sports. To criticize an East Coast team b/c they are can barely compete with teams in the West is, IMO, pointless. The question that I focus on is: what will it take to raise the level of ALL varsity polo programs? Reporting about what’s good in the East – as well as in the West – makes sense to me.

      I look forward to your thoughts,

      Your correspondent

  3. avatar
    Michael

    I think St. Francis was very deserving of their #12 ranking, they have a unique style of play no doubt. I think a good way to mitigate the use of shallow deep pools is maybe to squeeze a conference game or 2 during one of the tournaments maybe? It’s a necessity for the sport at this point we can’t afford to lose any programs. we are slowly seeing more parity amongst the “2nd tier” which excludes most of the GCC and the big 4. You have significant parity between st Francis bucknell and the 3 Ivies. And if I’m not mistaken, bucknells conference has been far from the cakewalk it was last year. I think we need more solid players to come east, it will not only grow the sport and maybe some day in the next 30-50 years we see an east coast team finally be represented in the NCAA finals. I think traveling across the country can take a toll on a team, depending on the rigor of their schedule during the week. The teams that st Francis lost to probably shouldn’t have beat them, I think it takes time for a team that doesn’t practice year round to gel by the time their conference finals arrive. No hate on the terriers, but they definitely come to play and play VERY hard and physically, combined with a unique style of play. Slowly but surely the sport will grow and parity can be truly achieved.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Dear Michael:

      Thanks for this response. The shallow / deep conundrum – which appears to be particular to the East – reflects the reality of a sport that has foothold here but (currently) not enough support to allow for better facilities. A case in point: tonight, Wagner, which I believe is one of the GREAT WP success stories on this coast, will host Fordham in their shallow / deep pool. I’ll be there tonight (buses willing!) b/c all fans of the sport should hope that Seahawk HC Chris Radmonvich can recreate the success of his women’s squad with his men (BTW, I’m thinking they will).

      What St. Francis has done is bring in incredibly accomplished foreign athletes who have made for a competitive (and entertaining) brand of polo; it almost compensates for their pool BUT – as we saw in California – if you play against teams w/a “deep tank” you’re at a disadvantage.

      Bucknell had a fantastic run last year b/c of their foreign-born players (Rade Joksimovic being most prominent, but also Marko Djordjevic); they are sure to be in the mix for an NCAA berth. AND, I don’t agree that their conference schedule is so easy. George Washington has some great offensive players, Fordham is having a good year and you don’t want to sleep on Johns Hopkins.

      As to parity overall, if it exists, it’s among the top six (I think James Graham is right that the “Big Four” is becoming outmoded); does this mean a non-Pac-12 team will win this year? Would YOU bet against USC or Cal in a final against Pacific? Would it be better for the U.S. game if the Waves or the Tigers won? Well, sort of – but how will we all feel if our Olympic goalie can’t stop a GCC team (BTW, I’m not foolish enough to predict that an East team is going to go far; as you say there’s parity all over).

      What I AM excited about is how good UCLA is now. Even if they’re ALWAYS contenders, the emergence of Saveljic, Travisano and Wolf is a nice surprise.

      Now, a question for you: What do you make of Stanford’s NCAA chances? Coach Vargas has an Olympian (Hallock), two near Olympians (Holland + Kimbell) and a handful of seniors. Can they overtake the Bruins for the final at-large berth? (Not to handicap TOO much but it’s hard to see how the Trojans + Bears aren’t favored for two of the three berths MPSF teams should claim…).

      Your correspondent

      BUT, I’d like to hear more

      • avatar
        Michael

        My mistake, I meant more parity among the east coast teams. I thought bucknell handled their conference last year with relative ease only dropping one game to GW in the last second. Stanford, while having a bevy of accomplished players won’t make the cut because of 1 coaching: Vargas is no where near up to par with everest, Adam weight, or Jovan. Olympian or not, they have no foreigners to increase the level of play with their American players. It comes down to coaching ultimately and he hasn’t shown any adjustment to the other 3. The parity I alluded to was more on the lines of uci beating ucla this year, as their program has been down in the dumps in prior years. But, I believe last year Princeton took ucsb to triple ot and brown took Pepperdine to ot this year, not bad for a bunch of nerds who don’t play all summer/year round. I think as far as st Francis goes, they need to focus on their team play and work on their consistency. They absolutely have a chance to push through their conference this year and I would even bet on them making the conference finals. I apologize for my aggressive rhetoric in prior conversation, I do like to talk smack :). I appreciate your column and I must confess I’m an avid reader. Haveing guys like you is amazing for a sport that’s growing on the east. Looking forward to your reply. I’m predicting cal USC uop making a run this year. In uops case idk what their goalie situation is

      • avatar
        Michael Randazzo

        Dear Michael:

        I will look to be succinct here b/c we have a LOT to discuss. Yes, agreed about parity; I thought the Terriers / Tigers might have separated themselves from the NWPC pack BUT Brown’s wins in CA show that you cannot count out Mercado’s team. Bucknell has depth (for an Eastern team) and should win MAWPC again (7-0 already); I do expect GW to be more than just a speed-bump in the conference tourney. Terrier / Tiger tilt on 11/4 @ Princeton may tell a lot about both teams as Princeton was not ready for St. Francis team or pool in their earlier match.

        Okay, on to Stanford. Yes, they have no foreign-born players—which makes what Vargas is doing DOUBLY important (IMO). If you think about it, Cal is helping the Greek team get strong, Wright’s doing service for Montenegro, Jovan’s helping everyone (kidding here…!). Only Stanford is resisting the lure of international players – which makes him / Stanford on the cutting edge of U.S. Olympic development (not saying the other teams aren’t; just a clear distinction for the Cardinal from the rest of the Pac-12).

        BUT, this also means Vargas has to leapfrog ONE of his peers THIS season—which is why I predicted Stanford would beat out UCLA for the last MPSF bid. That doesn’t look so good right now, and their match on 11/4 will be telling.

        UCI / LBS / UoP – their collective gambit w/fleeing MPSF for the GCC looks good so far (which I believe is why they’re competing so well against Pac-12 squads); true test is in NCAAs. IMO UoP might beat UCLA but not Cal or USC (though I’d like to be wrong about this; we need true parity in the sport).

        Thanks for your VERY kind words and—most important!—your thoughts. I have a limited POV (as discussed in other comments) and appreciate what you’re bringing to the conversation.

        Your correspondent

  4. avatar
    Helen Hunt

    Dear Mr Randazzo- I am curious how you chose to write an article about the Pamona Pitzer parent, David Deimer, the father of the goalie. I am the Brown parent who stood up to confront him and the rest of the group for their loud, ridiculously inappropriate behavior throughout most of the game. I have never done such a thing before (and my heart was pounding..) but, then again, I have never seen such a rude, nasty group of parents. Your article mentioned that Mr Deimer “hurled scorn at the referees” but then he turned out “to be as congenial up close as he was combative during the meet”. Since when is this something we should condone and write about in a positive manner? Do you know what was his rude gesture to me? He PICKED HIS NOSE and flung the contents across the aisle at me.. When I stood up to him again, he repeated the “gesture” a second time. There were young children in the aisle on both sides and it was mortifying to think that they witnessed such behavior from a grown man. I understand that he is a physician as am I. It is appalling to think that someone in our business of helping and healing could be so revolting in his personal life. There are many wonderful stories to tell about players and fans, I am mystified about why you chose the Pamona-Pitzer fans and Mr Deimer in particular. Having said that, since we are now in an era of Trump when we elect and glorify a man who brags about sexually assaulting women, I guess anything goes. I certainly hope the talented student athletes fall a long way from their parent trees because if not, those young men will be in deep trouble.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Dear Helen:

      I believe I sat near you in the Harvard stands; my apologies for not mentioning my affiliation with Swimming World (I’m a freelancer so I don’t always like to lead with what is a somewhat tenuous connection). BTW, we’ve probably sat near each other before; I’m pretty regular at NWPC matches and know many parents by face.

      Which—to answer your question—is why I chose to speak with Mr. Deimer and the other Sagehen fans. I agree that their passion was fully on display—that’s why I was interested in hearing where they come from (emotionally + geographically). As to Mr. Deimer’s gesture, I did not see it BUT I did note that it was not friendly. I am not one to judge in these matters (I’m pretty passionate about MY teams) BUT I do think it’s telling that Mr. Deimer / the Pomona-Pitzer fans—some of whom traveled great distances—were extremely amped about watching their children play at Harvard.

      Does that excuse anything / give them license to be rude? Absolutely not! But, I can only imagine how parents throughout the sport react when their children are involved in one of the most physical of NCAA sports (BTW, my children do NOT play at the varsity level—in case you’re wondering).

      As to the line you cite, I would counter that people are often different one-on-one then they are in a crowd; not sure why you might assume that one gesture fully defines a person, even an act that you found highly objectionable.

      I would also like to think the quotes of various Sagehen fans gave readers a perspective similar to what you are now objecting to. If that is not the case, then I am sorry b/c the whole point of “Fan in the Stands” is to provide a viewpoint that helps clarify what observers like yourself experience. In fact, your comments here do provide an invaluable perspective on the situation – specifically b/c it’s NOT my POV.

      In closing, I will say that my experience of the intense emotions which men’s water polo engenders are a gripping and gut wrenching as I’ve ever felt, and unlike any other sport which I’ve watched / covered.

      Sincerely,

      Your correspondent

      • avatar
        Helen Hunt

        Hi Michael-thank you for your thoughtful reply. Now that I see your photo, you do look familiar!
        I have several thoughts/ responses
        1)We are ALL “amped up” at our children’s games but that doesn’t give one team the right to ruin the experience for the other parents. It shouldn’t matter whether you have flown across country or are at your home pool. I like to take photos during the game but when Brown is playing in a tight game, I usually can’t because the pounding of my heart makes it too difficult to keep the camera still.. Our daughter plays college soccer and the intensity is there too, perhaps slightly diluted since it is two 45 minute halves compared to quick 8 minute quarters.
        2) As I am sure you know, there is an NCAA code of conduct (I don’t think it was written by an English teacher but here it is)
        “NCAA is a youth organization dealing with the impressional (sic) years of a youngster’s life. As adults you are supposed to be role models and shouldn’t misbehave”
        3) Finally, while, I agree that people can be different in a crowd compared with one-on-one, I do think that nasty, rude gestures can define somebody. To take this to an extreme, would you feel comfortable having a nice one-on-one conversation with someone who had physically assaulted their child or their spouse? Personally, I would be unable to go to my doctor if I had seen him act that way in a crowd.
        4) Lastly, I am sure you know my political bent at this point (although it is irrelevant to the issue of being rude in the stands..) but I respect the Republican Senator Flake who was quoted in the NY Times to say “Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘ telling it like it is’, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified”
        :))
        Helen

      • avatar
        Michael Randazzo

        Dear Helen:

        I appreciate your comments, and do take point 2 (NCAA code of conduct) quite seriously. As I hope I made clear to Pat Hwang. I wasn’t approving of anyone’s actions—though I can understand how you / others might take offense. That’s why I continue to appreciate (and respect) your perspective.

        As to my conversation afterwards with Mr. Diemer, I DO have a backstory. My HS boy’s basketball team was quite good, and a friend of my brother’s played for the team. The father of this friend, Mr.Leonhardt was a strapping guy who was SO proud that his son played basketball for CBA (namedrop!) and was ALWAYS the loudest fan in the stands – and often THE MOST critical of the refs. I still remember that Mr. Leonhart would shout: “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” at the top of his lungs whenever his son had the ball.

        In many ways his actions were NOT defensible but he LOVED that his son was on the court with a chance to play. Isn’t that what we’re talking about here? Does it condone Mr. Diemer’s behavior? Based upon your perspective I could say no, but it was his passion—extreme to be sure—that I was struck by.

        As to YOUR son, as I noted when he joined Brown, it’s fantastic to have East Coast talent at a prominent Eastern program (and I have consistently pointed out that Coach Mercado gives local kids a shot…).

        Two last things (if I may):
        First, I’ve been tardy in responding, as what’s happening right now in our nation’s capital (as I’m sure you are aware!) is almost unbelievable. Therefore, I’m reluctant to dwell too much on WP these days (I feel like I should protest in the streets or something).

        Second, you now know who I am; if desired, I would be pleased to sit with you / other Brown parents at the upcoming NWPC Tournament in Cambridge (please feel free to decline this offer).

        Your correspondent

      • avatar

        Mr. Michael Randazzo, I am a Brown parent present at that game. I too witnessed Dave Deimer’s inappropriate and offensive conduct at the game, especially when he dropped the f bomb loudly with the presence of children and women. There is no excuse for vulgar language and obscene gesture from a spectator or to defend such disruptive behavior, period.

      • avatar
        Michael Randazzo

        Dear Pat:

        Thank you for your comments. I have watched your son play for the past four years; congratulation to him on a GREAT career playing polo at Brown (no small accomplishment, as I’m sure you will attest to). I was at Navy in 2014 when Brown beat Princeton in the Eastern Championships. It was a fantastic moment for Coach Mercado / Bear polo.

        Couple of points; I’m not exactly sure I am defending the behavior of the Pomona-Pitzer fans. I mean, would you call your child “Danimal”?!

        I had hoped that the comments in this subjective piece (I’m sure my editor will REMIND ME to put a disclaimer that these are MY opinions…) indicated the character of each person quoted. In the future I will be sure to underscore this aspect, b/c I do strive for a certain neutrality.

        As to the obscenities, I simply don’t recall that (and I’m not saying that it didn’t happen; in fact, this piece is—IMO—taking on Rashomon-like qualities).

        As I mentioned to Ms. Hunt, my interest in writing this piece was to describe an incredibly passionate experience that I witnessed and DIDN’T have a stake in. Perhaps I gravitated too strongly to one perspective, but I hope all who read it will acknowledge there was something compelling in what I recorded (and I would posit that your comments underscore this idea).

        Your correspondent

Author: Michael Randazzo

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Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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