Youth water polo teams win state
Last weekend, pools along the Wasatch Front and Park City were electrified with junior high and elementary school teams vying for state water polo titles in their respective age groups.
After three days of competition, the Park City 14U, 12U and 10U teams each earned the title of state champion.
The noteworthy feat has been a goal of Team Manager and Assistant Coach Gary Horton, as well as Elementary Coach Larry Jackson, for the past four years, when just six players were part of the team (three of which were Gary’s sons and one of which was Larry’s daughter).
"Four years ago, after realizing that Park City no longer had a water polo program, I was going to have to do something, and here we are, winning state titles," Horton said.
Horton also said that during the first couple of years he and Jackson came together with a simple goal — getting kids in the pool. Half of the first players needed the long foam noodles to carry them through the water as their swimming skills were not sufficient.
"We’d compete in games and the other teams would be almost double the age of our players and, along with that, our players used noodles to float," Horton said. "The other teams got a real kick out of that sight. No one else had players as young as ours — 7, 6 and 5 years old."
Jackson, who was a high school swimmer and later became a high school water polo coach for 15 years at Highland, East and Rowland Hall, started the high school water polo program at Park City in the early ’90s. He was instrumental in creating state champion teams for numerous years. He left Park City water polo in 1999 to become the University of Utah club water polo coach, coaching the Utes to a top-10 standing that lasted for 10 years.
"A year ago these kids couldn’t beat the majority of the teams out there," Jackson said of this year’s state champion squads. "After hard work and basically year-round practices, we have become a force to reckon with. We definitely dominate in the 10 and under age group. There isn’t a team out there right now that can keep up with us."
Park City also had enough players to field two 12U teams. The first team, made up of mainly sixth graders, dominated the field and won the state title. The younger and less experienced 12U team ended up taking fourth, which was still higher than expected. The seventh and eighth graders had a tough competition and ended up winning in the final round against Brighton 8-4.
"This team’s dedication and progress over the past year has led to success in the pool time and time again," Horton said.
On May 20 and 21, the high school water polo state championships will be held at Ecker Hill Middle School. The PCHS girls’ team hopes to defend its 2015 title and the PCHS boys are a heavy favorite to win gold.
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In South Summit’s 11 wins last year, the Wildcats outscored their opponents by 341 points total and averaged 45 points per game.