History - Courtesy of the Sandy Bay Water Polo Club
Water Polo in Tasmania has experienced many ups and downs over the last four decades since a group of enthusiasts decided to organise the first competitions in 1959. During this early period teams comprised members of swimming clubs who entered teams under the clubs banner. These players participated as an alternative to competitive swimming or retirement. Many of the early players who excelled at the sport were former Tasmanian Swimming Champions. Over the years this has changed, possibly for better or worse, to the extent that players may participate at all levels and age groups for their school or for a club or both.
Water Polo competitions commenced in Hobart in October 1959 with 6 teams competing. The inaugural A Grade Men's Premiership was won by the Sandy Bay Water Polo club in 1959/60. Sandy Bay continued to dominate competitions, winning the next two A Grade Men's premierships, until Northern Suburbs (later Glenorchy) wrested the title away from them in 1962/63. The Glenorchy Senior Men's team then proceeded to win all but one Senior Men's Premiership (Sandy Bay in 1965/66) until the 1969 season. At the same time the first Tasmanian team contested the National championships in Adelaide in 1961. Although they performed poorly this set the scene for future representative teams and provided top players with additional goals to achieve.
Two players who were participants in the first games were Phillip Bird of Sandy Bay and Bill Roach of Virgiliannes. Both served Water Polo well into the future, with Phillip being a Tasmanian coach in the 70s and again assisting in 1987 - 89. Bill Roach was later to become President and later Treasurer of Tasmanian Water Polo Incorporated, a post that he still holds today together with the position of Executive Secretary. Both gentlemen have been awarded Life Membership of TWPI in recognition of their contribution.
In 1965 the first Women's competition was conducted and won by Glenorchy. The Glenorchy Women, did not stand in the shadow of the Glenorchy Men for too long and soon stamped their authority on the competition by dominating for a number of years.
A State Women's team was soon participating in National Competitions for the first time in 1972. This was to be the first of many appearances of the Tasmanian Women. Additionally, Under 18s participated in a Junior competition.
The late 70s saw a greater emphasis placed upon Tasmanian representative teams. The commitment of a number of players to this competition was evident and by the completion of the 1979 National Championships a plan was hatched to improve Tasmanian performances at this level. Tasmania had its first National Representatives in John Heron, John Whitehouse, Michael Greenwood, Glen Munnings, Paul Salter and Jan Chipman.
In 1979 the first competitions were held for High Schools with twelve schools participating. The inaugural Grand Finals were won by the Huonville High School.
The Sandy Bay Water Polo Club ceased involvement in competitions in 1981. Meanwhile, the Clarence and New Norfolk Clubs began to dominate senior and junior competitions. The period between 1979 and 1983 saw a new era in Tasmanian Water Polo when several American players came to Tasmania to assist in developing the sport. Most notable of these was 1988 Olympian Greg Boyer who had a two stints in the Island State. Combine this with Stanford University Coach Dante Dettamanti and the Tasmanian players had a wealth of experience from which to further their skills and knowledge. But perhaps the most influential American was Russell Hafferkamp who, with a no frills style and commitment to teamwork, made a significant contribution to Tasmanian teams.
Unfortunately all this good work was undone when, in 1983, the TAWPA Executive decided to split away from the Tasmanian Amateur Swimming Association and form a new body. This meant that Water Polo no longer had links to Swimming Clubs, a source of many recruits. The impact of this was profound to say the least and many who have been around the sport for some years believe it to be the worst decision made by Tasmanian Water Polo.
However, one of the benefits of the American involvement was beginning to pay dividends. Competition at school level began to develop. From modest beginnings in 1979 when 11 boys and nine girls teams participated in the first Secondary Schools competition the sport at this level exploded. By 1985 a College competition was introduced and clubs had a new recruiting challenge. By 1988, their were so many teams participating that a second night of competition had been introduced to cater for the high number of teams with nearly 500 participants.
During this period there were several notable achievements made by Tasmanian players. Michael Greenwood again achieved national selection in 1982/83 and toured with the Australian team in Europe and the United States. Paul Salter of New Norfolk also gained selection in 1983 to compete against Cuba in the Speedo Cup. During this period Stephen Wood was selected in the 1982 juniors, and Gary Eaton travelled to Barcelona in 1983 to compete in the World Junior Championships.
In 1983 Tasmania participated in the Australian Schools Water Polo Championships for the first time and Craig Sly became our first Australian Schoolboys representative competing against New Zealand that year.
In 1985 scholarships were awarded to Water Polo players at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) for the first time and one year later Wesley Roach became Tasmania's first scholarship holder and Australian Junior squad member between 1984 and 1986. In 1988 Brent Annells was also successful in obtaining a scholarship.
Assistance to elite Tasmanian players did not end here. In 1986 the Tasmanian Institute of Sport (TIS) began supporting Water Polo by sponsoring Tasmanian participation in the National Water Polo League held for the first time that year. This support continued throughout the remainder of the 1980s making this period the most successful in Tasmanian Water Polo history.
Perhaps the greatest achievement by a Tasmanian team was that of the 1987 Schoolboys who defeated New South Wales and went on to win Tasmania's first, and only, medal - a bronze - in National Schools Championships. As a result, Andrew Best, Simon Claridge and John Pratt were selected to travel to the United States with the Australian Schoolboys team. Other players achieving National Selection during this period were Sharon Smith (nee Best) and Naomi Woodberry in 1989.
The 1990s have yielded mixed results for Tasmania. Flippa Ball was introduced for Primary School Children. This proved even more popular and a flood of entries is regularly received from schools wanting to play in these competitions. However, the participation of the Tasmanian Mens and Womens teams has halted with the last Men's team contesting the National League in 1990 and the Women at National Championships in 1991. Teams still compete at Under 16 and Under 20 Championships with an Under 14 competition being contested with Victoria annually. This has capitalised on the huge number of school participants in Tasmania.
Clubs continue to struggle to find their feet. The Sandy Bay Club was reborn in 1991 and appears to have a bright future but much work is still to be done. Clarence is rebuilding and appears to be showing steady improvement while the University club depends upon a high proportion of Water Polo playing students to remain viable. The Glenorchy club, once so strong, has disappeared into obscurity after winning 19 Mens A Grade premierships, 15 in a row between 1967 and 1981, which must be some sort of National Record. Although winning Men's premierships in 1992 and 1996 sadly they have too few individuals capable of lifting the club back to previous heights and the future is bleak.
However, the long awaited Hobart Aquatic Centre which opened in September 1997 offers players better training opportunities and a first class venue for competitions.
At School level the game has continued to grow with over 64 teams currently participating.
By 1997 competitions were emerging in Launceston and there are teams participating in Burnie and Smithton. The challenge lays ahead for Tasmanian Water Polo to become a truly state-wide sport. Only time will tell what course is followed.