Proposed league hopes to boost play in Hawai'i
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By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Leila Wai
Todd Sells views his biweekly water polo games as his chance to revisit the glory days ... and then return to reality just as quickly.
"For some of us older guys, it's defiance of losing 'it,' " Sells, 39, said. "Every new year I can get in and do it and some fresh guy comes from college and I can steal the ball or score. And I think I haven't lost it.
"And then I'll do something that makes me know I lost it. It just feels good to be playing at a high level again. To come closer to the glory days."
Sells, a model from Southern California who lives part-time on the North Shore, is one of dozens of water polo players who play in friendly pickup games at Waipi'o.
They hope their numbers can grow to support a league that would start next month.
"My goal is to provide people with the opportunity to play water polo," organizer Doug Cole said. "People who are done with high school and college. With the hopes that their continued involvement with the sport will keep them coaching and refereeing, and that by staying involved they'll contribute."
Cole charges $50 a person for the summer season, which lasts through July. Or players have a choice of paying $20 a month or $5 a session. He hopes to begin the league with at least four teams.
A POTENTIAL TO GROW
The league would "help get the kinks out" for the Hawaiian Invitational Water Polo Tournament in the summer, Cole said.
The pickup games are Tuesdays and Thursdays at Central O'ahu Regional Park, "probably the best pool on the island," Cole said. He reserved the pool the same nights for league play.
For now, the league will be male-only. Cole ran the men's and women's leagues last season, but was more satisfied with the participation on the men's side.
He estimates that within five to 10 years, "it will be easy to have a successful water polo league" for women.
"As there's more kids who played in high school, going to college and coming back, the women's side will pick up," said Cole, 29, who grew up on the North Shore and played at UC San Diego and coached at Kahuku and Brigham Young-Hawai'i.
The level of play in the league runs the gamut from novice to experienced.
"There's everything from just out of college, really good players, ex-Olympians, national team members ... to guys who played a year or two in high school and are out there to have a good time," Sells said.
"It is competitive at times, when we get the right mix in the water. But there are times when everyone helps everyone out to learn. You'll hear everything from, 'So, this is how you catch the ball,' to 'Wow, that was some great water polo out there.'
"But pretty much everyone has a good time."
Sells said he likes the exercise it provides, and the chance to compete against tough competition.
MAKING A CONNECTION
San Diego native Scott Harvey, 24, who played for Pepperdine, said, "It's a great way to keep in shape and in touch with the sport I love."
He said he enjoys the interaction and the chance to be a mentor to high school players.
Harvey met Pac-Five player Christian Flowers through pickup games and coaching opportunities, and helped Flowers form a connection to Pepperdine, where Flowers will play next year.
"(Games) give them exposure of what Mainland water polo is going to be like," Harvey said. "They get experience from people who have played nationally and internationally. They get to observe the better types of players around the island or internationally.
"It's a great thing for O'ahu water polo."
Cole, Harvey and Sells said the chance to replenish the water polo community with constant support is a major benefit of the league.
"I think it's really neat how Doug's organized it, and as the elder statesmen we get to help out a lot of people," Sells said. "I've always had the feeling that Hawai'i should be an aquatic powerhouse. Water polo programs could be integral to getting us back to that."
For now, Sells can only dream of having too many players than the league can handle.
"We would figure out a way, we would divide and conquer," Sells said. "That would be one of the greatest problems we could come up with. I'd be stoked to tackle that problem."
Reach Leila Wai at email@example.com.