By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Leander ISD recently announced it is canceling the new UIL water polo program district wide. Some parents and water polo players want the sport to continue.
“This has been crushing for many students across the district,” said Lina Chamas, parent of daughter Ava, who plays water polo at Vandegrift.
Ava has created a Save Water Polo at LISD petition and has collected over 1,000 signatures in support of keeping the sport. With the help of her Steiner Ranch parents, Ava wants to see LISD reinstate the sport and she and her dad, Josh Chamas, plan to address the LISD Board of Trustees on Jan. 26.
“Water polo is such a big part of my life and playing club really is just not a viable replacement to the opportunities that representing my school brings,” Ava said. “I want the board to see what an amazing opportunity it is to keep water polo in the district and how many people will benefit from this decision.”
Students who play water polo were told on January 11 that LISD is canceling the program.
“We are trying to save water polo and overturn a decision that was made by the district without input from players or parents,” Lina said. “Vandegrift HS, Cedar Park HS, and Vista Ridge HS all had solid water polo teams this past fall and want to keep playing.”
But LISD evaluated the 2022 season and found a lot of challenges with offering it now. Facilities and staffing are some of the biggest reasons for suspending water polo. The district research states: “The way in which we currently have to operate the water polo program does not meet LISD athletic standards for athletics. The coaches agree that until we have access to appropriate facilities and can appropriately staff the program, the water polo pilot program should be suspended.”
Water polo in Texas is in its infancy. In October 2019, the University Interscholastic League announced they would be offering a pilot water polo season for the 2020-2021 school year. Due to COVID, the program was pushed back and began in August 2022. During the spring of 2021, Leander ISD swim coaches polled their communities to gauge interest in water polo. Survey responses showed that Leander HS, Glenn HS and Rouse HS did not have enough interest or participants to field water polo teams. Vista Ridge, Cedar Park and Vandegrift responses showed enough interest in water polo to form teams.
“LISD has always made an effort to offer every UIL sport available and water polo was no different. We pushed forward to make the pilot program available to the three high schools with enough interest,” according to LISD’s evaluation.
There were just under 100 LISD athletes in water polo in its inaugural season.
The Chamas want to see the sport continue for their daughter and the many other athletes in the program. After expressing their concerns with LISD, they recently received an email response from the Leander ISD Athletic Office addressing their concerns. Here are excerpts from that email:
When the UIL announced they were starting a pilot water polo program, we knew that we would have numerous obstacles in order to participate. We decided that we would proceed with a pilot year with the campuses that we felt there was enough interest to successfully field teams to see if our perceived obstacles were a reality, if any new obstacles came up that we did not anticipate, and if we had the ability to overcome those obstacles.
We wanted to make sure that we were able to make an educated decision, so we met with the coaches pre-season, checked in with them during the season and met with them again after the season. After the meetings, we collectively looked at all the information and experiences gained and it led us to the conclusion that we could not offer water polo because we are currently unable to adequately support all of its needs and sustain it to the level we did this year.
The biggest obstacle that we face is with facilities. Currently only two of our pool rental locations will allow water polo to be played or practiced at their facility. The two facilities that do allow us to practice water polo, would not be able to host a competition. We tried to see if we would be able to share a facility and put multiple teams at one location, and we learned that is not a good solution because neither team gets adequate practice time. We would not have a place for 4 of our 6 high schools to practice or participate at all.
The UIL’s placement of the season creates another issue with facilities. UIL water polo season started on August 1st this season, our rental facilities will not give us access until the start of school because they do not want us to interfere with their summer programing. Leander ISD water polo seasons would not start for at least another two weeks.
UIL considers water polo a team sport so it falls under team sports restrictions. That means they are not allowed to practice outside the school day when the sport is not in-season. They are allowed to have strength and conditioning training outside of the school day during the off-season, but not sports specific skills. This would give our teams a very small window, if any, to work on improving their skills in water polo because of the facility locations and rental times.
The UIL’s placement of the water polo season, availability of places for competitions in Central Texas, and staffing issues were the other challenges that the water polo pilot program faced.
The coaches and the athletic office are on the same page, until all of our campuses can access appropriate facilities, address the logistical issues with the fall water polo season and reach appropriate staffing levels we have to suspend the water polo pilot program. This is not a decision that was easy to come to, and we tried to look at it every possible for solutions. We will continue to monitor the situations within LISD and any adjustments the UIL might make.
Although LISD cites several reasons for discontinuing the sport, Ava shares from the athlete perspective.
“Personally, I don’t mind the lack of facilities that we have, I just want to play water polo,” Ava said.
Additionally Lina believes compensation is a factor. She found LISD’s stipend for water polo was low at $1,000 for the head coach while other surrounding districts paid $4,000-$5,000. Round Rock and Waco-Midway ISDs pay a $5000 stipend to their head coaches while Austin ISD has a stipend of $4000 for the head coach and $1,750 for the assistant coach, according to Lina’s research.
But the Chamas are not giving up and as far as they know, the LISD Board was not consulted on the cancellation and they want to bring it to their attention. At this week’s board meeting, the Chamas will speak up in favor of reinstating the program. They know water polo is not an official item on the agenda so the board will not be able to discuss it with them and others. But they are hopeful it will end up as an agenda item in the future.
The Chamas were also planning on meeting with Jonathan Lamb, LISD director of athletics.
Lina says “if water polo is discontinued in our district it will be a great disservice to lots of kids.”