Whether on it, in it, or under it, the people of Guam fully embrace Guam’s tropical waters and the activity and business opportunities it provides
The water polo community of Guam is full of camaraderie and is always open to new players. From businessmen to attorneys and dentists, the sport attracts a diverse crowd. The team was started in 1976 and has maintained a steady following since then.
The team participates in regional competitions and occasionally invites teams to the island for friendly tournaments. The team supports itself through member dues and the sponsorship of GTA Teleguam and Nissan Guam.
Water polo is a team water sport in which teams attempt to score goals by throwing the ball into the opposition’s goal. A team has six field players and one goalie. Ideally, the game is played in a 30-meter pool, but the Hagåtña pool is 25 meters. “We do the best with what we have,” says Geoffrey K. Burke, owner of Burke Engineering, which does shipping inspections. Burke is also one of the founders of the group.
Since the beginning, the team has played at the Hagåtña pool. On occasion, when parts of the pool have been in disrepair and the Department of Parks and Recreation was not able to provide the funding, the team has come together to make improvements, like lighting repairs.
Frederick Black, a U.S. assistant attorney and one of the team’s founders, says water polo is an ideal sport to play as you get older. “Swimming is one of the best and safest exercises. It is a lot less hard on the knees and other body parts,” he says, adding, “Water polo is far more fun than any other competitive sport.”
In the past Guam has had visiting water polo teams from Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. The Guam water polo team has also played in Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand.
“We have master’s players who compete in the World Masters every two years. My 60+ team got the silver medal out of 10 teams in the summer of 2012 in Italy. We also played in Sweden and Perth. This year the competition will be in Montreal,” Black says.
Burke, known as “the Godfather” of Guam water polo, has seen the sport grow from wooden goals to the current metal goals. He says since the sport began, there has been a steady stream of interest and always enough members for a full course.
At 69, Burke says playing water polo keeps him in shape. “You have to be a good swimmer and have the skills of water polo,” Burke says.
Laurent Wainer has been the president of the Guam water polo team for 15 years and says it’s a sport of situations. “It’s about learning the situations as you play and recognizing what to do in certain situations,” Wainer says. The national rules of water polo are constantly being reinterpreted to make the game more exciting for players.
The team will train beginners, including those who have never played. Some players are high-school age.
“It’s good for the youth. It’s a great game for high school students,” Wainer says. He encourages youth to get involved because it is a good way to get scholarships to colleges. The pool of applicants for water polo scholarships is smaller than other sports, such as swimming, he says.
Wainer says what sets the Guam water polo team apart from other water polo teams is the longevity of the team. Several of the team’s members have been playing together for 23 years. There is a core group of members, with others coming and going.
The team goes to about two tournaments per year. It traditionally participates in the Hong Kong tournament in August and often participates in tournaments in the Philippines and Thailand. Some members join other teams in the country to participate in tournaments abroad.
Wainer says the team plans to introduce a tournament for beach water polo, which is played in the ocean with inflatable goals. This is a very social event and promises to attract a lot of interest, Wainer says.
Darren Burrier, a captain at the Guam Fire Department, has been with the Guam water polo team since 1987. “I like it because of the camaraderie,” Burrier says. In addition, he says, the sport is fun and keeps its members active. He says the team is unique because of the range of ages of the group’s members and the variety that comes with new members joining outside of the core group.
Peter Linn is a teacher at John F. Kennedy High School and has been a member of the Guam water polo community since 1979. “It’s been my exercise, and I love the water,” Linn says.
Linn helps beginner players a lot when they join the group. New players are often paired up as they learn, he says. He also coaches the summer youth polo program, an introductory course to water polo. The youth team, called Ulitao Hanom, is made up of students from the ages of 7 to 17 years old. It’s a non-contact co-ed team.
The Guam water polo team practices from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sundays.
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