Auburn Trojan boys water polo team back in the drink
By SHAWN SKAGER
Auburn Reporter Sports Reporter
September 16, 2012 · Updated 7:27 PM
It's 8 p.m. and 30-plus members of the Auburn Mountainview water polo team are going through the paces, practicing for the upcoming season, at the Auburn Pool.
The Auburn High team watches from the bleachers. Its numbers are not as impressive, just a handful of kids and a coach, waiting for their turn in the pool.
But for the Trojans, the representation is better than last year when they had no team at all.
After earning a fifth-place finish at the 2010 state tournament, the Trojans combined with Auburn Mountainview to field a team last season.
"They petitioned to join Auburn Mountainview because there were only five (players)," said Auburn coach Jim Isom. "And it didn't help that the coach quit a week before the season started."
This season, however, thanks to the dedication of Isom and the handful of players and parents, there will be a separate Auburn team.
Isom, who started the Auburn water polo program in 1990, says the program will participate this season, albeit with just nine members at this point.
"I had mixed feelings about them combining last year," Isom said. "I think they just put off what we're experiencing this year, the struggle. We've had to forfeit one game and rescheduled another because we didn't have enough kids eligible. They didn't have enough practices."
Isom approached Auburn Athletic Director Bob Jones in May about the possibility of returning as the water polo coach. Isom, who guided the Trojans from 1990 to 2003, had coached the Auburn Riverside girls team the past few years.
When Jones offered Isom the job, he didn't hesitate to accept.
"I said yes without thinking," Isom said. "This is my baby. I started the program. And even though it's been awhile, I just couldn't stand by and watch the program falter. I gave my baby up for adoption a few years ago and now I'm back."
Initially, Isom had only five players to work with, two shy of the number to officially needed to field a team.
"We picked up four players last week ... due to the parents and players recruiting," he said.
Still, the team needs more time to build the program, Isom said.
"I'm looking two years down the line," he said. "This year, I'm just trying to teach the game.
In order to build the program, Isom hopes to overcome the "football is king" culture at Auburn.
"It's like football or nothing for these kids," he said. "A lot of kids would rather be on the football team, even though they're not playing. I have to figure out how to appeal to those kids who aren't playing football to get them to come out.
"I want the kids who are not unlike me," he said. "I tried playing basketball, I tried track. But when I started playing polo I realized, 'Wow, I can do this.' For me, being that 15-year-old kid, I always wanted to be jock, but I never was until water polo. Then I had something athletically that I was good at.
"For me, it meant a lot. And it's never too late to join, particularly for the underclassmen."
And if potential team members are concerned they won't have enough experience to play right away, Isom said that won't be a problem.
"Since we don't have the numbers, they'll play right away," he said. "Sometimes they'll play more than they want. If you want to play a sport, you're not going to sit on the bench here."
The biggest draw for turning out, according to Isom, is just the chance to belong.
"Kids are more likely to finish school if they participate, whether it's the Key Club, the French Club or any sport," he said. "They're more likely to stay in school and stay out of trouble. And I can say I've had kids who probably would have gone the wrong direction if they didn't have polo. They had something to feel good about themselves. They had a group they felt they belonged to."Contact Auburn Reporter Sports Reporter Shawn Skager at email@example.com or (253) 833-0218, ext. 5054.