Athletics News

Olympic Club Gives Back Through Coaching


Members of The Olympic Club compete at an annual match in McCovey Cove in San Francisco

March 19, 2013

By Peter Conte

“Imagine for a moment that you are an athlete on a team that I coach. This is what I would say to you: youth only comes once in a lifetime. The opportunity to compete in sport is short lived, and to compete at this level is truly extraordinary. So it is important to pause for and reflect on the values and principles inherent in what you do. These principles can, depending on you, guide your future.”—Pete Cutino, Olympic Club coach and Hall of Fame inductee 2007

It has been said that for those who play, water polo is more of a calling than a hobby.

In a sport with only 35,000 players nationwide, it’s no surprise that those who’ve seen success in the water continue to support and honor water polo with their time and effort on the pool deck. Water polo has created a generous family, and it warrants notice that numerous members of the Olympic Club have had an impact in Bay Area communities.

Olympic Club water polo is arguably one of the most successful and internationally recognized clubs in the world. Boasting current and former Olympians such as Peter Varellas, Kirk Everist, and Sean Nolan, national team members such as Brian Alexander, and renowned coaching legacies from Pete Cutino to Bruce Watson, the 100-year-old “winged-O” program has proven that championship-level performance is an ongoing expectation. But more than world championships and national titles, beyond NCAA notoriety and all-American accolades, the main testament to the Olympic Club’s passion for the sport is its capacity to give back.

“I started coaching only a few years after I started playing, it just seemed natural. I was lucky enough to be coached by college stars and then later by coaching legends, and it just made sense to pass on the knowledge I received to those younger than me,” said Chris Lathrop, assistant to his brother and fellow O-Club teammate James Lathrop, at the NCS Champion Miramonte (CA) High School. “When I stop and think about it, I feel very lucky to have been surrounded by such amazing talent and amazing people on all sides throughout my water polo experience.”

Other high school coaches on the team include former commissioner Paul Felton of the St. Ignatius women’s team, Giovanni Napolitano of the Menlo Atherton men’s team, GP Panawek and Sean Joy of Burlingame High School, Pat Reid of Acalanes’ women’s team, and Peter Galli of St. Francis’ women’s team. That list, however, is incomplete without the assistant coaches—Bob Palmer, Michael Sharf, Kirk Lazaruk, Mike Haley, Zac Monsees, Trent Calder, and others—who also lent significant time to local high schools last season.

“Being an assistant coach is rewarding in that you get to watch players develop on the field as well as off,” said Calder of his experience at Acalanes. “The most gratifying part of coaching is being able to give back to the sport that gave so much to me.”

The sheer number of players who involve themselves is not just impressive, but truly inspirational.

Former national team member, Palo Alto Vikings women’s coach, and O-Club standout Spencer Dornin made headlines in 2009 when he took the helm of the San Francisco Tsunami—a straight-friendly, gay water polo team. Adult co-ed water polo is generally the most underserved segment of the water polo family from a coaching aspect, but Dornin brought some serious clout to the growing program.

“The Tsunamis are eager to learn and improve while having fun,” said Dornin. “I consider all those to be part of a great water polo experience.”

Maybe Dornin’s attempt to create a complete experience for his players is the best indicator that the system works; that deep in the water polo heart beats a spirit of community and collective effort to continue the legacy that’s been handed down by so many who’ve come before.

Head coach Kirk Everist took command of his alma mater UC Berkeley’s program after competing in two Olympics as a player and years of assistant coaching at the high school level. “I'm here because I feel that I owe a lot to this program,” said Everist after taking on the position, a mentality that has seen two NCAA championships, 51 All-Americans, and more than one Coach of the Year award during his 11-year tenure.

But the practice of giving back to the family doesn’t end in high school or college: Masters World Champions and OC team members Doug Norton and Kirk Jensen—both of whom have raised their children as water polo players in the East Bay’s age-group system—formed their own club, CC United, in an effort to broaden outreach among multisport kids. The players, age 10 to 18, are encouraged to augment their water polo pursuits along with other sports and activities.

“We both are very adamant about giving back to a sport that has been so generous to us over the years,” said Norton. “After many discussions, CCU was formed in an effort to grow the sport locally and encourage and support multisport athletes in playing water polo. Our aim is to develop kids fundamentally as well as instill a love for the game so they aspire to play in high school and at the collegiate level.”

The role of the coach  would seem obvious to most—which is why it’s often unacknowledged. But these mentors spend time, effort, and often their personal income to guide the players of tomorrow—they deserve to be recognized for their efforts in molding and growing the youth contingent of water polo.  

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