In Watershed Moment, High School Water Polo in Texas Okayed by UIL for Fall 2021

Chris Cullen, Director, Thunder Water Polo, Stephen “Mac” MacDonald and Scott Slay, Chair of the TISCA Water Polo Committee. Photo Courtesy: Joe Linehan

In one of the more favorable recent development for the sport’s growth in America, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Legislative Council has approved water polo as a pilot program at the high school level in Texas. Play will officially begin in the fall of 2021.

“The adoption of water polo by the UIL is a game-changer for our sport and for Texas,” said Christopher Ramsey, USA Water Polo CEO in a statement released by his organization. “It will result in hundreds of new polo programs across the Lone Star State, while also recognizing the achievement of current club players by conferring coveted UIL varsity status.

“It’s evidence that water polo is becoming a truly national sport.”

UILWater polo is a club sport in Texas but is growing in popularity in a number of private and public high schools in the state. Given the availability of excellent aquatic facilities and strong swim programs, including at the University of Texas at Austin, there’s a favorable footprint for expansion.

Ramsey added that USA Water Polo, the country’s national governing body for polo, is working with the UIL to expand coach and referee development opportunities across the state to meet anticipated demand.

“We also want to give a shout out to Texas swimming and water polo coaches, who worked together to bring about this tremendous new opportunity for Texas athletes,” he said.

The UIL, which oversees the vast majority of athletic, musical, and academic contests for public primary and secondary schools in one of America’s most populous states, is the largest organization of kind. Having water polo sanctioned at the state level represents an unprecedented opportunity for polo to increase outside of its regional base in California.

Another key partner in getting state approval was the Texas Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (TISCA) and their water polo advisory group.

“USA Water Polo would like to congratulate TISCA Water Polo for all their hard work on this initiative,” said Joe Linehan, USA Water Polo Texas Regional Manager. Linehan, who for a decade has been key in growing Texas polo, first in Houston and then the Dallas/Fort Worth region, cited a number of supporters, including the Charles Breithaupt, Mac McDonald, Scott Slay, Chris Cullen, Jamey Harrison, Susan Elza, and Brandy Belk for their continued support as well as Melissa Howard and the TISCA Board.

“As is stated in our mission, we support and encourage the growth of water polo,” Linehan continued. “This includes at all levels in Texas and across the country and we will continue to support Texas through education, referee and coach development as programs transition from club to a sanctioned sport.”

Houston Hall, a member of the USA Water Polo Board of Directors, was equally effusive.

“This is a great day for water polo in the state of Texas,” he said. “So many dedicated people between TISCA, the UIL and UIL Legislative Council have worked to make this happen. USA Water Polo has made growing the game of water polo a priority in Texas and we are thrilled with today’s news.”

Jamail Texas Swimming Center at University of Texas

Jamail Texas Swimming Center. Photo Courtesy: University of Texas

This decision, a number of years in the making, was by no means certain. Recently, Cullen, who had been shepherding this endeavor as the chairperson of TISCA’s Water Polo Committee, was removed from his position in what Total Waterpolo described as a “major miscommunication.”

Apparently, this change in leadership did not impede the progress that Cullen and many others had made in advancing water polo’s standing among the Texas swimming coaches, a constituency crucial to the sport’s acceptance.

James Smith, founder and editor of Total Waterpolo and it’s companion site, TX Waterpolo, was clear that this was a major step forward and should be celebrated as such.

[UIL Approves Water Polo Pilot]

“Though my instinct is to be cautious about overstating the importance of today’s decision by the UIL, this is very likely a watershed moment for water polo in Texas,” Smith said in a statement emailed to Swimming World. “The repercussions will be felt throughout the water polo community here and in the rest of the country: higher participation by both high school and club athletes; increased interest by Texas colleges and universities to join Austin College in fielding varsity water polo teams; a much bigger recruiting pool for national team pipelines and NCAA programs; improved coaching training, and more.

“The Texas water polo community is rightly proud of what it has accomplished over the past five decades and is cheering this significant event. But it is cause for celebration throughout the United States.”

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Chris Price
Chris Price
4 years ago

I understand this is a pilot program. What exactly does that mean? The last time the UIL added a sport was over 20 years ago (wrestling) and they went straight to competition mode. What does “pilot program” mean?

4 years ago

Kudos to Houston Hall and all those who worked hard to make this happen. This is by far the most important development in the recent history of water polo in the United States. The number of pools this decision opens up to water polo is potentially phenomenal. Texas high schools producing skilled players could increase the number of universities offering scholarships in Texas and beyond. More water polo could very well save a sport that is stagnating in the U.S. and teetering on the edge internationally (cut of Olympic roster size). Needless to say US water polo membership will undoubtedly increase.

Larry Cook
4 years ago

Well done to all… way to go Scott Slay!

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