Coverage of high school water polo is increasing and improving throughout the US. But no other source matches the detail and concentration of Illpolo.com, the “go to” site for all things Illinois water polo run by the prolific Aaron Brown. State championship tournaments are soon to begin and Aaron took the time to share his thoughts about this season, and some of his detailed knowledge about the sport in Illinois in general.
Give our readers from outside Illinois a bit of an education about high school water polo in your state? What kinds of rivalries should fans know about?
Water polo had a strong presence primarily with the Catholic League schools for the past several decades. When the IHSA sanctioned water polo as a sport in 2002, it gave many public high schools the ability to start teams and for the ones with clubs to take things to the next level. There’s been a major shift since 2002 with over 80 teams on both the boys and girls sides now in 2012. I believe there used to be about 30 teams and less for the girls just ten years ago. As these teams continue to add offseason programs, they are starting to catch up to the teams that have been around for much longer.
Fenwick boys lost to Lyons recently to prevent them from defending their state title for the first time in years. Did you expect that before the season began?
Lyons built a program from the ground up to get to the point where they finally were able to beat Fenwick. There have been other teams who have come close (Naperville Central a few years back), but it’s hard to for most teams to sustain that success due to graduation. Before Fenwick’s eight year run, teams like Brother Rice and St Patrick were able to beat them, but they had programs that had been around for a long time too.
The Fenwick girls enter the post season ranked number one. But there seems to be more parity amongst the girls than the boys. Do you agree?
There is more balance to the girls’ side, where there seems to be at least one excellent team from each area that makes it to state. It’s not always the same teams, but it’s just somehow naturally made for a more competitive state tournament on a yearly basis.
What’s your feeling about Illinois teams competing against non-Illinois teams during the Spring – like Fenwick winning the DeSmet tournament in Missouri. Is it more exciting to cover what could be considered the best-of-the-Spring competitions, or the Illinois state championships?
It’s great to see how water polo is advancing in the state when teams go up against the best teams from Florida, Michigan, and Missouri as we have seen in recent years. Teams get to play 30 regular season games, so it keeps things fresh instead of playing the same Illinois teams 4-5 times per season.
Is there interest among fans and coaches in Illinois to play even more non-Illinois teams in the Spring?
A clear indication that there is interest in playing non-Illinois teams has been seen with teams like Lincoln-Way North and Stagg traveling to Missouri, Schaumburg and Stevenson hosting tournaments with St Louis-based teams, Evanston and Loyola playing in Florida, and Naperville Central traveling to Michigan. It’s not just the one team seeking a high-level of competition; many coaches see the value of seeing different styles of play outside of the state.
The data shows that the game is growing in Illinois at the high school level. What are your observations about the state of the game in Illinois and regionally?
The interesting thing about water polo in Illinois is that there is about a 75-mile radius of schools with teams. Illinois is a huge state, but most of the teams are in the Chicagoland area. There might be a great chance for growth if cities like Champaign, Peoria, and Rockford could sustain teams, but the travel issues are a problem for those schools in making it work. Just to show how fast things have progressed, Lockport started a team less than ten years ago and their boys team will win a trophy in 2012. That’s groundbreaking.
Give us your background. Where did you learn your water polo? What are your plans for Illpolo.com in the future?
I got my first teaching and water polo coaching job coming out of college in 2002, the same year IHSA sanctioned water polo as a sport. I simply thought there should be a resource with schedules, teams, and contact information for an energetic coach like myself and others, and things snowballed from there when I realized that the sport wasn’t being covered. As I started a club program (No Limit Water Polo) and got more involved in the sport, I just kept adding more and more coverage so that the players get the recognition they deserve for their efforts. I don’t have any formal training as a reporter or with operating web sites, it’s just something I’ve grown into over the last ten years.