Water Polo team rallies despite controversy

Will Clark, Sports Editor

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On Saturday, Nov. 12, the boys water polo team traveled to Burbank High School to play Hoover High School in the quarter final match of the CIF Division-II playoffs. Throughout the game, unruly Hoover fans harassed the referees, protesting almost every call. This resulted in play stopping every few minutes.

“During the game, the atmosphere was very hectic,” said senior co-captain Judge Washer. “Our game was away, so there was not a lot of people on our side. It was a very violent game, and I hope that I will never play in a game like that ever again. But that does not diminish the fact of how proud I am of the team pulling off the win.”

A long, physical game resulted in LBHS maintaining a two-goal lead with  35 seconds remaining in the game. After stealing the ball and essentially ensuring victory for LBHS, the Breakers braced as Hoover players started throwing punches. For roughly a minute, players were dunked, punched and kneed without pause. The players were soon separated, and the game was ended 26 seconds early with a 13-11 LBHS victory.

At this point, the police officers had arrived to diffuse the situation and escort our fans and players off the pool deck. A few hours following the conclusion of the game, an article was written on the Los Angeles Times website about the game. Unfortunately, the article was written using quotes only from players, fan, and administration from Hoover High School. This, along with some considerably slanted writing by the reporter, shed a bad light on our school and the events that transpired. The implication was that the fight broke out as a result of Laguna players making racial slurs.

“The players are making these accusations because they aren’t used to losing many games, and to play a top caliber team like Laguna, the loss made them realize that their season was over, so they resorted to petty comments to make them feel like the loss was due to our ‘comments,’ not our playing ability,” said Washer.

Unfortunately, a few years ago, the water polo team and its fans were involved in racially insensitive behavior at the CIF finals versus Montebello. After this behavior at the finals, the water polo program and our school as a whole was extensively educated on proper fan and player conduct. For this reason, the allegations made by the Hoover players of current racial insensitivity hit hard. In the days following the game in Burbank, an investigation was launched by both CIF and LBHS school administrators. Both investigations absolved our water polo team of any wrongdoing. The team was also educated on how to properly de-escalate fights and highly tense situations.

“There were things we could have done better in that game, but I appreciate the fact that we learned from it and did everything we could to move forward as positively as we could from the situation,” said athletic director Lance Neal.  

The boys water polo team, along with the other sports teams here at LBHS, were reminded after the events at Burbank always to play with the utmost class and to be respectful of the other team and its fans.

“This is something I’ve been trying to work on schoolwide, trying to build our  sportsmanship both in our fans and our players to make sure that we are treating people with dignity and respect and being great competitors and letting our skill, tenacity and composure do the talking,” said principal Chris Herzfeld.

A mere four days later, with controversy still circling the events that transpired the previous Saturday, the team faced a strong Murrieta Valley squad in the semi-finals. A long year of training hard and battling every game had brought the team together, allowing them to handle the Nighthawks, winning by a score of 9-4. The following Saturday, the boys faced off against Santa Margarita in the CIF Division-II finals.This marked our program’s first appearance in the Division-II finals in 20 years. After a hard-fought game, our Breakers came up just short , losing by a score of 6-4 to the Eagles. Despite a controversial season riddled with hardships, our boys water polo team achieved a great feat, finishing second in CIF.

“All season we were faced with close games and lots of controversy. These incidents, such as the one against Hoover, did not faze us; they brought us closer together,” said Washer.

Throughout the season, the water polo team showed resilience throughout the hardships and false accusations. Many teams would have crumbled under that type of pressure. All year they rose to the occasion and continued to win and grow closer as a team. This season built a great amount of character and provided priceless lessons in sportsmanship.  

“In a year filled with more than your average amount of controversy, the boys were able to find a way to be consistently successful without letting any issues affect their goals. They rallied behind each other and used their core team values to overcome the adversity faced this season,” said assistant coach and LBHS alumnus Nathan McConnell.

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