While rain clouds loomed overhead and children splashed around the Planter’s Walk community pool on Thursday evening, a group of five swimmers used a soccer ball and arranged deck chairs to play a small game of water polo.
The arrangement hardly stood out as the inaugural practice of the Planter’s Walk water polo team, the fourth and newest team in the Triangle Youth Water Polo League.
But coach Trent Walker believes the sport will be a perfect addition to the neighborhood, which has also fielded a summer team in the Tarheel Swimming Association since 1992.
“For our team, it was a natural fit,” Walker said. “(Our) kids have always played water polo on Friday nights during summer swim practice, so many of the older ones jumped at the chance to join a water polo team.”
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Planter’s Walk joins other clubs from the William H. Sonner Aquatic Facility in Raleigh, Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary and Heritage community pool in Wake Forest in the four-team league. Matches in the 2014 season begin on Saturday, Aug. 10, and are divided into two or three age groups.
The Triangle Water Polo Club, which runs the league, believes the addition of Planter’s Walk this summer and more TSA teams in the future will help youth water polo expand in popularity around the Triangle.
Scott Ennis, TWPC president, noted that adding a neighborhood team to the league was the main goal for this year. “Having a community pool come into the league and field a team … is going to be huge,” Ennis said.
The sport itself integrates aspects of basketball and soccer in with swimming. The success of the TSA, which has grown to 82 teams and more than 10,000 participants over the past 43 years, provides inspiration to Ennis about the future of water polo in Wake County.
“The TSA is a model,” he said. “We would love to have 10 or 15 or 20 community pools field teams.”
The team at Planter’s Walk is already attracting attention to the point that Walker is considering the possibility of additional teams, each composed of seven starters and several substitutes.
“We have one team well-stocked,” he said. “We are hoping for more, so we can field multiple teams.”
The rain held off long enough for a full practice on Thursday, helping the team members in attendance work on their newly-learned water polo techniques.
Walker paced the side of the pool, whistle never leaving his mouth, as pairs practiced swimming with and without the ball. At each shriek of the whistle, the freestyle swimmer passed the ball across a lane rope to the backstroke swimmer. Over time, the pass was caught one-handed with more and more frequency.
The Planter’s Walk water polo team for the first time was making headway.
“We are really excited,” Walker said. “It should be really fun for the kids.”