Athletics News

Jennie “Grammy Jay” White: An Ambassador For Water Polo

Jennie "Grammy Jay" White (far left) picked up water polo after a daughter started playing
Dec. 4, 2018

By Matt Szabo

Jennie White, 68, rates playing water polo as maybe the hardest thing she’s ever done.

The only thing that comes close for the Bay Area resident is beekeeping. She has picked up both endeavors later in her life, and a swarm of defenders trying to steal the ball can sometimes be as daunting for her as a swarm of bees.

“I really feel like I need to set an example,” White said. “I’m a beekeeper because our bees are really struggling, so I feel like I need to do my part there as well. I had no idea how hard it would be, but I keep moving forward and I love that, too. Both beekeeping and water polo keep me pretty busy.”

In the water polo arena, White is better known as “Grammy Jay.” She is part of not one but two club teams, Oakland Water Polo and the “Soda Moms.” The latter is so named because they practice at Soda Aquatics Center in Moraga.

Two clubs mean four practices a week for White, who takes the workload in stride. She has competed at USA Water Polo Masters Nationals with both clubs, and the Oakland 40s and 50s won Gold at the most recent tournament in Irvine in June. But water polo hasn’t been a life-long labor of love for her.

White picked up the sport at age 50. That was in 2000, around the same time her daughter Lindsay—the youngest of her three children with her husband of 49 years, Jim—started playing. Her friend Megan Hernandez, a former national team player who taught White’s children to swim, convinced her to try it out.

“I said, ‘Megan, all I know about water polo is the yellow ball sticker that’s on your car,’” White remembered.

White knows considerably more now. She went to the Masters Nationals in Stockton in 2001—the first when women were allowed to compete—and helped Oakland win Gold. That was significant to her. She attended Stanford University in the pre-Title IX era.

The early 2000s was a key time period for the growth of women’s water polo. The year 2000 was also the first year women played water polo at the Olympics, and the U.S. took Silver. Since then, White has been proud of the sport’s growth. Oakland has grown considerably as well, bringing four women’s teams to the Masters Nationals this year. White has continued seeking opportunities to grow the sport for women, along with her friend Lynn Wittstock, another former national team player who competes for Oakland.

Now “Grammy Jay,” who is a member of the USA Water Polo Masters Advisory Committee, can’t stop playing water polo. She doesn’t let her small size of 5-foot-2-inches and 90 pounds get in her way. And she won’t stop telling others about the sport, either. The Soda Moms welcome newcomers to the team, and White is one of their best recruiters.

“She’s not afraid to pick up a conversation with somebody,” Soda Moms coach Andrew Morris said. “She always has an eye out. She’s like our little Energizer bunny; she doesn’t stop.”

White, the 2012 winner of the Bryan Weaver Female Master of the Year award, just keeps going. She’s picked up friends in high places, like four-time Olympian Heather Petri. Petri said she met White while attending a Soda Moms practice after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“Honestly, she was such a light,” Petri said. “She was so energetic and so full of love for water polo. I just assumed she had been playing for a really long time. She was like, ‘Oh no, Heather, I just learned!’ I was like, ‘What? This is incredible!’ I fell in love with her right there. As a person, she’s just so wonderful. She’s essentially the ultimate teammate.”

Petri continued: “I think a lot of people are scared to try new things, especially as we get older. You have someone like ‘Grammy Jay’ who comes in and displays this desire to love new things, let alone water polo, and she wrangles people in just with her sheer energy and love for the sport. She’s out there saying, ‘If I can learn at that age, you can, too,’ and that’s what you need. You gravitate toward people like that.”

White is approachable, yet persistent. Emily Schmit credits her for giving the push to try coaching, beginning at the high school level. Now Schmit is entering her third season leading the women’s program at Cal State Monterey Bay.

Molly Stanton, who plays goalie for Oakland, can only laugh when describing White’s signature shot. It’s a lob, known as the “Jay Lob.”

“It just escapes me,” Stanton said. “I’m like, ‘I’m going to get it. Nope, there it went in the net.’” White said she was born cross-eyed, so she usually has one eye closed when she takes the shot. But, like everything else in her life, she makes it work.

“We’re working really hard on the Masters Committee to promote having older women join,” White said. “Women, even in their 50s, are afraid to try it. You know, it’s pretty intimidating, especially if you have people on your team who are really good … but I don’t ever discourage anyone from trying. If you don’t try, then you don’t know.”

“Grammy Jay” is proof of that.

This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of SkipShot magazine




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