Paul Ramaley, Head Coach, Chelsea Piers Water Polo: What Went Wrong?

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Paul Ramaley is back at his post on the Chelsea Piers Connecticut pool deck but it's a whole new club he's leading. Photo Courtesy: Michael Randazzo

Editor’s Note: Following is one in a series of articles and interviews about the situation with the Chelsea Piers age group water polo club. For the past eight years the club had been under the Chelsea Piers Connecticut (CPCT) umbrella until the program was cut two weeks ago, a victim of the coronavirus.

The news was stunning: after eight years as a member of the Chelsea Piers sports program, the age group water polo program, a continuation of the Greenwich Water Polo Club, has been cut from the roster of programs at CPCT’s Stamford location.

[Curses: Polo Cutback in Connecticut]

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Furloughed four months ago when the facility shut down due to Covid-19 concerns, CP Head Coach Paul Ramaley was never rehired to his former position with the organization. He was not given access to his CP corporate email account, and therefore unable to fully explain what happened to a program that he’s been part of since his school years in Greenwich.

But, this is not the end of the program started four decades ago by Terry Lowe, a legend in the Nutmeg State for his success with polo and swimming at Greenwich High School. Ramaley and his brother Jimmy—Lowe’s replacement at Greenwich High—along with coaches Sam Bass and Win Bates will continue the program under the leadership of Scott Schulte and a reconstituted parent board.

[Scott Schulte, New Director for CP Water Polo: “Nothing’s Going to Happen Overnight”]

Last week, Ramaley spoke with Swimming World about what happened with the club’s relationship with CPCT, how the coronavirus crisis may be a silver lining for the club, and what the future looks like for a Chelsea Piers program that for decades was on the East’s best.

– What is the current situation with the Chelsea Piers age group water polo program?

We are not going to be a program through Chelsea Piers. We will be an independent program. like most of the clubs on the East Coast—a non-profit club. Chelsea Piers [the corporate entity] had to furlough 90% of their employees—they dropped several programs from Covid.

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Photo Courtesy: CPCT

It took control financially of the whole building [in Stamford] and all the buildings across New York and Brooklyn.

Connecticut was hit really hard, and they had to look closely at the margins of some of the smaller programs, look at the bigger programs, and see what programs would be most sustainable given these economic times.

Over the past eight years, water polo wasn’t growing enough for them, so it was decided to either make use of the pool as a rental—and not put us on payroll, not take any risk—or to bulk up the swim team or bulk up the swimming school.

– Being from Connecticut, you know how sustainable water polo has been. Is this change fallout from the Coronavirus or the result of a long-term trend?

To go back in history, we were a club [team]—Greenwich Water Polo—and eventually Greenwich Aquatics split off from us. We were operating on a day-to-day basis; find pools, which I know clubs in New York City have to deal with, that grind of finding pools to rent.

I thought the move to Chelsea Piers was the best move for us in terms of our sustainability. Keeping our water under one roof and not having people drive all over for pool [time]. And it did; it was a great home for eight years. That’s a long time to have a solid program with a lot of success.

I don’t see the popularity of the sport necessarily dying down. There’s more kids playing water polo in my area than ever before, despite our long history of water polo in [Greenwich].

– It’s not good when one team in a region dominates. How important is it for Greenwich Aquatics to have a regional rival to help them sharpen their skills?

It’s not good. That’s one of the biggest things and people from all over the water polo world on the East Coast specifically—everyone’s reached out because they know it’s not a good thing for the long-term growth of the sport. The coaches at Greenwich Aquatics agree.

Having competition nearby is good for both clubs to grow and compete at a high level.

We are hoping to stay as a club and provide that [competition]. We know it’s going to be a challenge moving forward without our usual home base make it sustainable. But, we’ve already spoken with a lot of different venues, and we’re looking at a few opportunities for a new home.

– There isn’t going to be a lot of competition in the next five weeks—and fall high school competition may not take place. Could this be a silver lining as you look to restructure your program?

Absolutely. It’s not ideal but there is [some] comfort knowing that this all didn’t happen in the middle of JOs. My brother [Jimmy] is the coach at Greenwich High School, I would not want to see that program not have options [to play]. But in terms of our club’s growth, it’s a chance to get restarted.

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Better times for Chelsea Piers: 2018 JO’s. Photo Courtesy: Ann-Caroline van der Ham

I’m slightly happy that we don’t have the urgency [of competition] because just being able to get in the water and figure out all logistics and get things on to a steady platform without worrying about the next step, which is playing and competing—it’s a little silver lining for sure.

– Chelsea Piers wasn’t just a program; it was arguably the best place for water polo in the region. How will this change without your club being under the Chelsea Piers umbrella?

It’s going to be a challenge; we have talked already about possibly using Chelsea Piers not as a day-to-day rental but as a specific event rental. Through everything that’s happened CPCT has been amenable to the changes and supportive of us renting.

But, it’s definitely going to take a hit. That was one of the first responses from Greenwich Aquatics.

They were either going to have to take on the bulk of the hosting or we’re going to have to find another, central location—maybe down at Princeton or Pennsylvania, or Navy’s going to play back in.

Every place is going to be different about what they’re willing to host, and that’s tricky. Chelsea Piers not being available… we were lucky that we were able to host on almost any Sunday, any time of the year.

We were very fortunate.

– Going forward, who will constitute the coaching staff for your program?

My brother and I have been there since Chelsea Piers opened. He’s been on the staff since 2012. So, we are heading [the coaching staff], and have a younger coach—Sam Bass—who coached our 14U and our 12 U the past few years. He’s Jimmy’s assistant at Greenwich High School; he’s in the area and eager to work with us.

Win Bates was a teammate of mine at Johns Hopkins who moved back to the area after spending seven – eight years in LA. He’s on our coaching staff as well.

– How will club parents fill in the gaps of leadership that was previously provided by Chelsea Piers?

A couple of years ago we formed an informal parent board to help us organize and give parents a role in our program. We’ve been able to maintain most of that board since Chelsea Piers shut the program down.

– Where do you hope a reconstituted Chelsea Piers program will be six months from now?

We are most likely going to be in Connecticut—though we have looked into a few pools in New York —we’re going to be in Fairfield County and hope to incorporate more of the greater Fairfield County and not just down in Greenwich and Stamford. We might also try to be a club that has multiple venues that we rent out to give easier access to a wider variety of towns.

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Practice still looks the same. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

We have always been a strong club competitively, but we need to get those younger kids in the program and sustain it from there. We have to be creative in how we market—which, moving from Chelsea Piers, may make it better. They have zone marketing, so this might be a chance for us to reach out to places that haven’t had water polo before and build from there.

If there is competition [this fall] we will have our high school team, which has had a lot of success the last four – five years, and our other age group teams.

We are currently doing a six-week program at Chelsea Piers—we’re renting the pool—getting our kids in the water, seeing their friends and getting back to the sport.

In the meantime, we are actively looking for a long-term solution, which we expect to have by the fall.

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