When school starts in August, a group of Atlanta students will have a unique answer to the question, “How did you spend your summer vacation?” The Dynamo Atlanta Water Polo Team will compete this week at the Junior Olympics in San Jose, California.
The team is an elite group of players from 11 different Georgia high schools. It also has members from Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and one team member from Argentina. The youth team has been around for three years and started as an offshoot of a master’s team.
“Two years ago, we had about 20 kids. Last year, we had about 35, and this year, we have about 80 kids,” says head coach Stuart Sheldon.
Water polo is popular in California, where the students are competing this week. In Georgia, it’s not as common. Sheldon says it’s sort of like a mash-up of different sports.
“It’s a little bit soccer, from a positioning perspective,” he says. “It’s a little bit hockey from the type of contact, lots of bumping into each other, that kind of stuff. It’s a little like basketball, and then the goal is like a soccer goal, and the goalie can use both hands. They’re the only one that can do that.”
Players try to score goals by passing the ball with one hand. They use the other hand to balance in the water. Their feet can’t touch the bottom of the pool, so they’re constantly kicking to stay upright.
“It’s a breaststroke kick, split in half … like an egg beater,” Sheldon says.
‘We’re Ready To Win’
At a recent practice before leaving for the tournament, players seemed ready to compete.
“I’m so excited,” said goalie Elise Smith-Davids. “The teams there — a lot of the California teams — are super-good, but I think we’re getting ready for that. I think at this point, really, we ARE ready for that. We’re ready for the competition; we’re ready to play, and we’re ready to win.”
Smith-Davids’ teammates call her “Goalise.” She’ll be a freshman at North Atlanta High School in APS in August. This is her first Junior Olympics.
Her teammate, Jaime Matherson, is a junior at North Atlanta. She moved 2 1/2 years ago from California and has been playing water polo for eight years. This is her eighth Junior Olympics.
“I just love seeing all the different teams from all across the country,” she says. “I get to see my friends out in California, which is really, really cool.”
For Molly Haynes, winning is great, but so are team dynamics. Haines is a senior at Atlanta’s Grady High School. This is her second Junior Olympics.
“We did OK last year, but I’d really like us to kind of come together more as a team and communicate better, find each other in the water without really thinking about it, and just really grow together as a team and become like one in the water,” she says.
They’ll have plenty of chances to do that. The Atlanta team is scheduled to compete every day of the tournament this week.
A note of disclosure: The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license.
Correction: This report has been updated with the correct spelling of Molly Haynes’ name.