USA Water Polo Racial Equality & Reform Task Force Hosts Town Hall Discussions on Zoom

A successful swim initiative between Brown Water Polo and the Providence Boys' and Girls Club. Photo Courtesy: Brown Athletics

Thursday night USA Water Polo’s Racial Equity & Reform Task Force held the second of two virtual town hall discussions about the recently-formed group’s mission to create more inclusion and equity in a sport that—by almost all appearances—is predominantly populated by white, and often affluent, participants.


Logo Courtesy: ADEWP

Co-chaired by John Abdou, USAWP Chief High Performance Officer, the task force’s roster is distinguished by both their success in the sport and their collective experience with institutional racism in America. Brenda Villa, who co-chairs the task force with Abdou, also participated in Thursday night’s Zoom call. One of the most accomplished polo athletes in American history, Villa is a product of Commerce Aquatics, a singularly unique swim and water polo program in Southern California. They were joined by Felix Mercado, a native of Miami who has made his way to become the head men’s and women’s coaching at Brown. Mercado made reference to the Alliance for Equity in Water Polo, an affiliated organization.

Ted Minnis, a graduate of Menlo Atherton High School in Northern California who was plucked from a coaching position with the Stanford Water Polo Club to transform men’s and women’s water polo at Harvard, also participated, as did Clarke Weatherspoon, a former player at UC Santa Barbara and one-time Stanford Water Polo Club coach.


One of the slides presented at Thursday night’s town hall by the USA Water Polo Racial Equality & Reform Task Force

Mariko Rooks, a club water polo player at Yale who is in her senior year at the Ivy League institution, provided pointed observations from the task force’s research as did Angela Uno, a referee in Texas who also played college ball for the Gauchos. There were also two non-polo players on the call who are task force members: Scott Newberger, a parent whose children play polo in Arizona and who is responsibility for diversity and inclusion within the Arizona Air National Guard, and George Abele, an employment law expert whose daughter is on the Pomona-Pitzer women’s squad.

Missing from Thursday night’s town hall were task force members Ivan Munoz, a club administrator with the Northern Illinois Water Polo Club; Chelsea Johnson, a former polo athlete at Princeton who was recently elected to the Southeastern Zone Board; and Tumala Tavana, a former U.S. national team player who was a gold medalist with the American women at the 2012 London Olympics. All three were present on the first town hall Zoom meeting, held on Monday night.

Select discussion points from Thursday included:

  • 55% of Americans are unable to swim; in general, water safety is a significant issue in this country
  • School-age African American males die in swimming pools at a rate six times greater than Caucasians and Hispanics / Latinos
  • There is a long history of exclusion and discrimination against people of color when it comes to access to water as well as learn-to-swim programs
  • Understanding who’s represented in the discussion—and who’s not—when it comes to aquatic sports access is key to addressing exclusionary practices; USAWP intends to revamp how it collects information from its members
  • The importance of encouraging age group athletes to break down barriers between their teammates as well as their opponents
  • Exploring partnerships with aligned organizations, even if they are not natural partners for polo. One noteworthy collaboration was mentioned by Mercado; his college athletes partnered with Providence Boys and Girls Club to provide swim instruction
  • Also mentioned was Los Angeles Premier’s partnership with the Jack & Jill Foundation, a Washington DC foundation seeking to address issues affecting African American children and families.

Participants on the call raised questions about how to get involved, what sorts of support USAWP might provide for access to aquatics facilities and what are helpful strategies for effecting change among communities that have faced persistent discrimination.

A key consideration in effecting change is funding; a significant milestone is a board designated fund that was created in September. According to Abdou, in a little more than two months, 70 individuals have contributed to the this fund, including 40 first-time donors to USA Water Polo.

No follow up events were announced, but interested parties are invited to email the task force at to pose questions, receive updates, and find out how they might get involved with the group’s efforts.

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