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

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Chelsea Piers players (blue caps) mingle with Greenwich Aquatics athletes after their loss in the 2019 NEZ JOs qualifications. Photo Courtesy: Marc Ducret

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 was been under the Chelsea Piers Connecticut (CPCT) umbrella until the program was cut two weeks ago. a victim of the coronavirus.

Chelsea Piers, one of the strongest age group water polo programs on the East Coast, has fallen victim to the coronavirus as well as declining enrollments, a persistent trend the past few years. Chelsea Piers Connecticut (CPCT) has severed ties with the club, one of the state’s oldest polo programs.

There is uncertainty around the program, which has retained its core coaching staff as well as top players that, up until recently, enabled the club to compete with Greenwich Aquatics, now the region’s dominant program.

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Photo Courtesy: CWPA

Stepping into the breech is Scott Schulte. Familiar to Eastern polo fans due to an All-American collegiate career at Bucknell—where he still holds the school record for goals (586 still the top mark in NCAA competition) and assists (256)— most recently Schulte has led the New York Athletic Club’s men’s master’s team, one of the country’s best.

[On The Record with Scott Schulte, Bucknell, CWPA and USA Water Polo Hall of Famer]

In a phone interview last week, Schulte identified the challenges currently faced by the Chelsea Piers program, how Covid 19 has exposed the club’s underlying weakness, and how he and a group of devoted parents plan to reboot an age group club that has consistently been among the top programs on the East Coast.

– What is your role going forward with the newly reconstituted Chelsea Piers program?

Whatever organization we call ourselves—I’m leaning to Connecticut Premiere Water Polo Club—I will be the director of the program. As director, I’m going to be overseeing the development of the program, the coaches, the business plan, the budget, the strategy… [all] for the foreseeable future.

– What does the name change say about the new entity’s reach into Fairfield County?

I’m going to go further than that. It’s not a Fairfield County program. The reason for the word “premier” in the name is, the objective is to create a premier program not only for Connecticut but for [the] East Coast as well as on a national basis.

That’s the mandate for what we’re doing here.

Whether we grow with players just from Connecticut [or] we grow with Westchester [kids], Massachusetts, wherever it is, this program will develop kids to elevate their games and play at a collegiate and eventually a national level.

– Greenwich Aquatics now has 300 athletes in their program; the enrollment this spring in Chelsea Piers’ program was 30. Is there enough local talent for both programs to prosper?

The Greenwich Aquatics program is successful for a number of reasons. It’s successful because it’s got a great facility, a great administration [and] a long-standing coach [Ulmis Iordache] who’s passionate about water polo.

It’s also successful because of where it’s located. It’s in a very wealthy area of the country where parents have the resources to have a kid attend a program like that. And, there’s been consistency over a long period of time. It is the best program, and people who go to the best program typically thrive.

The perception is that it’s the only program where a kid has a chance to learn the game, become a better player, compete against the best players. And, an opportunity to go to college and play and maybe become a top player. That’s what they have right now.

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

What this pandemic has done, and what’s happened at Chelsea Piers is a blessing in disguise. It created an opportunity to reevaluate the challenges that were taking place [with the program]—which will now change [its] name. Looking at this as a business, they were just employees of a bigger program.

There are more than 30 members—there’s more than that playing. If you include what they had in terms of in-house members who are playing now, because of Covid. Other players that came in and have played for them in tournaments over a period of time, which is probably another 15 – 20 players.

Are there more actualized members on a paying basis? Yes. [But] that number, Greenwich dwarfs it. There’s no comparison.

– Why does it make sense right now for you to jump in and fix this program?

The reason I got involved with this is, I own my own firm, I’m up here in New Canaan, I’m working more and more hours. My daughter’s involved with Chelsea Piers soccer, so I’m over there all the time.

I have flexibility; obviously I have a tremendous passion for the sport. And, this program needed direction. Paul and Jimmy [Ramaley] and Win [Bates] and Sam [Bass], as coaches of water polo and their passion for the sport.

It’s like everything else; you need some event to make you stop and question what’s going on. Even though they have a premiere team that might compete against Greenwich at one level, the bottom line is as a business, there’s a business in growing it, which is numbers, and running it and everything associated with it.

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Recent practice at Chelsea Piers Connecticut. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

Unfortunately, that had dissipated. The reality is [the program] needed someone who had a business sense—I’ve been in the business world for the last 36 years—someone who would be able to stop the bleeding and make parents and players aware that this program is not going away, and someone who understood how to communicate with parents and how to deal with kids… someone who really understood the game. And had, most importantly, the network of relationships within the sport—someone with the authority to say this program can survive and grow in an area of the country where there is capital, there are facilities, there is a passion for the sport that’s recognized, and an ability to grow this particular program over and above all the success that Greenwich has.

I’m not saying me coming in I’m going to be able to pluck all these people back from Greenwich. That’s not my objective. My objective is to figure out a business plan whereby other areas in Connecticut—granted this area is a mecca because of Fairfield County and Greenwich High School—has the ability to use Darien and Westport and New Canaan and other areas.

Being independent of Chelsea Piers opens up so much. [But] if this program had stayed as Chelsea Piers Water Polo I wouldn’t do it.

– How will you come up with the network of pools that will help your club achieve hoped-for success?

You’re always selling—you’re selling an idea, you’re selling your experience and success, you’re selling relationship. Number one, you’re selling that to parents and kids. You’re saying to Chelsea Piers: We’re a tenant of yours right now, but watch us build up our splashball program, our house program, bring numbers into your facility and other facilities around Connecticut and get people excited about our program.

Every sport needs options for athletes. If you’re a monopoly you’re never going to grow anything. Because all those players aren’t going to get to play. There’s only seven players in the water at a time. The other players aren’t going to develop.

Over the last two weeks I’ve had to do a crash course in what’s going on here—almost like a consultant saying what are the challenges, what’s things can be addressed, is this an opportunity to grow again?

We do have the use of a facility at Chelsea Piers which can be used for premier players. We do have the ability to go to the New Canaan [YMCA] and all these different Ys and ask: Do you want members? Do you want kids involved?

I was talking to Hannah Meyer for USA Water Polo and what they did in Chicago, building up the splashball program. [We can] leverage off USAWP for caps and balls and goals.

A business plan has to be put together to for the development of younger players. I was talking to Sam Bass who coaches at Rocky Point. Why are all these kids going to Greenwich Aquatics as younger members? Because they think that’s the only place to get the exposure and the [best] facilities for the sport.

Why did the two best players for Greenwich—who grew up in the Chelsea Piers program, were coached by Jimmy Ramaley at Greenwich High School—leave this program to go to Greenwich Aquatics, and learn the game through the other program?

Do you think Ulmis Iordache would ever let one of his players, [who] played at Greenwich Aquatics, going to Brunswick [High School], go play for Jimmy Ramaley at Chelsea Piers?

–  Two top players transferred to Greenwich Aquatics this spring—before the coronavirus hit.

Right. Before Covid-19. Because there were enough kids to compete, they have respect for the [Greenwich] program and respect for the coaches. If I’m running that program, these kids are not even thinking of going anywhere else.

– But that does point to the potency of a Greenwich Aquatics program—their success and their willingness to invest in their program.

It’s the mentality. I’m a parent; I had my kids play sports all through age group, high school and college. And I’m doing it again now [with his daughter]. I’m thinking about what’s best for my kid, where they’re going to get the best competition and opportunity to excel. The coaches, the platform, everything else.

Right now, that’s why everybody’s going to Greenwich Aquatics.

Are there other kids in New Haven or other [parts of the state] who want to play—which USA Water Polo would love? They don’t want members going from one program to another; that doesn’t help USA Water Polo in the zone. What helps them is new players coming in.

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Kevin Chang, Scott Schulte, Andrew Chang, Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

I’ll give you an example; two kids from Choate. They go there, like kids go to Loomis and [other] prep schools in Connecticut. The parents all have a lot of money and the kids like the sport. Do they really develop as a player [under] a coach at a school who perhaps doesn’t know a lot about the sport?

No, they don’t.

Is that a market I’m going after? Absolutely! I’m going to be reaching out to those coaches and those kinds of players—here’s an opportunity… if they went to Greenwich right now, they wouldn’t get [the attention].

There’s two sides to this job right now; business man and water polo man. [Chelsea Piers] has to increase its membership. You attract new kids to the sport thought splashball and everything else, over and above all the people in Greenwich who are already at Greenwich Aquatics and will stay there.

Get younger kids into the program. Or, you’re going after kids who are top players—who may get better—whose family has capital, and they don’t feel wanted anywhere else. They don’t even know there is an option to Greenwich.

There’s other programs you can do to develop your sport, and you build up the membership. The more money you have in your program—just like the New York Athletic Club. [Their master’s team] started off with what we had on the East Coast. We built it up so that we could attract [better athletes]. The success we had with a premier program, bringing in national team players, that eventually provided the exposure of the program in New York. You have extra money because you’re so successful, your budget is from the NYAC, and you can use that to provide a great platform for the guys in New York who aren’t at the same level.

People see the success and the capital coming in; members start coming in. Water polo is a tiny world—and I have an advantage; I can leverage the New York Athletic Club and all the national team players to create a buzz that this program is going to exposure elite players at the highest levels.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Gene Shen

    Best of luck Scotty!!!

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