Battle Creek Central sophomore Travis Face runs for the school’s cross country team, but also participates in another sport this fall.
“Last game I caught a couple headbutts. I guess I’m prone to it,” Face said. “I get an elbow or head to the face… Physically it is a tough sport, but once you get the hang of it and learn how to do the basic stuff, it’s a lot easier to play.”
He wasn’t talking about football or soccer.
Face is one of eight BCC students on the boys’ water polo club team, which just finished its season on Wednesday night. It was the second season in program history after BCC boys’ and girls’ swimming coach Rob Brownell helped bring the sport to the school last year.
Water polo is a team sport consisting of six field players and one goalkeeper. Athletes swim or tread water, passing a ball with the aim of scoring goals. Simply put, it’s a combination of many sports, yet unlike any other sport.
The Bearcats operate as a junior varsity club, but plan on becoming a varsity next season as long as numbers continue to improve. The Michigan High School Athletic Association does not offer a state tournament for water polo, but the Michigan Water Polo Association does. As a JV, BCC will not play in a postseason tournament this year.
With only eight players, BCC has one sub for each game.
“With the numbers, it’s hard to teach the fundamentals, because you cover it in one night when you have four guys. Then you have to re-cover it,” said BCC co-head coach Sam Weaver. “It’s good to reenforce it. But it’s been a struggle for me as a coach this year because I came from a school where water polo was around since the early 90s, a very built up program. I want them to play how I know they can play. But we have to go right to the basics.”
Sam Weaver is coaching along side her husband Steve Weaver. Both have water polo playing experience at Grand Valley State University. When Brownell became the girls’ swimming head coach, he reached out to the couple to take over the program shortly before the school year started.
“We are going to start to build numbers,” Sam Weaver said. “Everything happened so fast, we didn’t have time to recruit or be in the school last year, be in for freshman orientation. We want to do all that this year. And do fund-raising earlier so it’s not all in a two-month clump.”
Battle Creek Central does not fund the program, but allows the team to use its facilities. Cost to participate is $200 per athlete. The biggest expense for the program is travel, as there aren’t many teams in the area. Portage Northern and Portage Central co-op to form the Portage water polo team, but the next nearest teams are in the Lansing area.
One way to help the sport grow locally is to form a co-operative with another school. The Battle Creek Central swimming teams already co-op with both Pennfield and St. Philip.
“We’ve been looking into it, because I know Harper Creek is interested in water polo,” Steve Weaver said. “I know in Marshall there are guys and girls interested in a co-op. It’s something we’re considering and looking into for next year.”
Of the eight players on this year’s team, two are seniors in Phil Wood and Julian Vasquez. That means a majority will be back next year with one or two years of playing experience under their belts.
“I started last year, a senior on the team said there was going to be a water polo team, and I swam in middle school so I thought I’d gave it a try and fell in love with it,” said junior co-captin Nick Cramer. “Last year for me, it was a nightmare. You have to keep your hands up. It’s scary for a little bit, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really fun.”
Cramer leads BCC in scoring, but every person on the team has found the back of the net this season.
And the trailblazing Bearcats recently overcame a big hurdle — winning their first game.
“The guys put it all together, worked the ball really well. They were driving,” Steve Weaver said. “They knew going into the tournament that they had some confidence because of how well they did last year. It makes it easier. When we show up against some more established teams, it’s hard to stay positive even though they are trying their hardest.”
Cramer added that the experience of the past two seasons will only help the future of the program, regardless of what the Bearcats’ record is.
“We’re improving a lot, you can really see it from the first day we started practice until now,” Cramer said. “Now we feel like we can really win some games here… Going back to that first game, I was saying, ‘This is the first game and I’m going to be a part of history.'”