The Illinois High School Association began sanctioning a boys’ water polo championship for the 2001-2002 school year. Since then, except in 2003, Oak Park’s Fenwick High School has won every one of them. As in every prior Spring, the Friars are among the favorites to win it again despite a recent very rare loss to Lyons Township. Coach Kyle Perry, who followed his legendary father as the program’s leader in 2011, gave some of his time to update TWp on the 2012 season.
We happened to catch you at a very unique time: Fenwick recently suffered its first loss in 82 games, a 6-5 defeat to Lyons Township. How has your team reacted to that outcome?
Well, right now we’re on a one-game win streak after beating Br. Rice to finish 2nd in the Stevenson Tournament. If all goes well, we’ll hit ten by the end of the season.
Lyons is a good team, and we did not play our best game. We play the same game as everyone else; somehow these kids just keep finding ways to win. That’s what is remarkable about the whole thing. It hasn’t mattered what I throw at them, what officials throw at them, or what other teams throw at them. They consistently just keep doing whatever they need to do to win.
Right now, we’re focusing on the Metro Chicago Aquatic Conference Tournament this weekend at Fenwick. Our conference is the top water polo conference in Illinois, and we will see some great competition.
How does playing in a tournament such as the one you won at DeSmet (MO) help your team prepare for the rest of the season? Do you encounter many big differences in the style of play when you travel outside of the Chicago area for games?
This year marked the second year we won the DeSmet invitational. Last year we called it step one in our six step program that ended with winning the state championship. It set the tone. This year, someone posted a sign that said “Welcome back Missouri State Champions” when we came back to Fenwick. It’s nice to see new teams, new coaches, and new officials. It keeps the boys interested. This year we had a tough game in the semi-final vs. the #1 team in Missouri, SLUH. One of our starters, Matt Farmer, was out for the game, so we had to see who would step up. SLUH also ran a spread out offense and tried to force us to go one on one. We never could pull away, but we came out with a win. Right now, we have two players out with concussions, one player out with a broken nose, and one player out due to illness. We’re not sure who will be back in time for conference or the post-season. The best part of the St. Louis trip though was that it reinforced that no matter who we put in the water and no matter what the other team tries to do, the boys can still find a way to win. The officiating is probably the biggest difference. Some of the points of emphasis that we have in Illinois at the high school level have not made their way to St. Louis yet, and I am sure it is also the other way around. Otherwise, water polo is water polo almost anywhere you play. We have heard that a team from Texas is interested in coming next year so each year the tournament is becoming more popular and more competitive. We look forward to defending our tournament championship next year.
Last season you started taking over the program from your legendary father, David, who coached at Fenwick for 23 years. Would former players notice any difference between the way you now coach and the way your father did?
I have been with this program for the last four years in various roles. This year has been a unique experience because the seniors all started out with me on our F/S team. It has been crazy to see some of the boys who didn’t even know what water polo was until midway through their freshmen year who are now starting for our team and some of the top players in Illinois. My dad was a very patient coach; I try to remind myself of that all the time. I think we’re probably similar. I think former players would see that I bring the same focus, intensity, and hard work that I ask of the boys just like my dad did. He probably yelled at the officials a little more than I do, but when I need to be heard, I am.
Prep water polo in Illinois may get media coverage equal to or better than in any other region in the US. Do you think this has had any affect on growing the sport in your area?
Well, the www.illpolo.com website is great. Aaron Brown does an amazing job with that site. I check it regularly to see the scores for the week. He also has all these awards and other stuff there too, but the scores are what I check in for. Our local media in Oak Park has not been too great to us this year. Our season preview didn’t even make the local paper. Of course, I did get some calls and emails the night we lost. The Sun Times had a nice write up at the beginning of the year which included a big picture of one of our juniors, Matt Farmer, and also had a picture of my dad. It was great to see my dad on the back page of the sports section again. The Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune will do some good articles usually around the State Tournament which is great exposure for our sport. I think the next step for sport development at the high school level is convincing high school coaches to continue working with their kids throughout the summer within the Illinois High School Association’s contact day rule. From there, I’d love to see more age group programs feeding into high school programs.
Tell us about where you played and coached over the years.
I graduated from Fenwick in 2001. I was a member of State Championship teams in 1999, 2000, and 2001. I went to Miami University where I played club water polo. I was our president, captain, and coach during my time at Miami. We finished as high as 5th at Collegiate Water Polo Association’s National Club Championships, and we won the Midwest Division each of my four years. I was named Midwest MVP during my sophomore, junior, and senior year, and I was an CWPA Collegiate Club All-American during my junior and senior year. I wanted to stay in the Midwest for college, and Miami gave me an opportunity to not only grow and develop as a player but also a coach and a leader. I had the chance to coach both our men’s club team and the women’s club team. Our women finished as high as 4th at Nationals while I was at Miami. After graduating from Miami, I joined the coaching staff at Utica College of Syracuse University where I coached swimming and water polo in Utica, NY. We did not win a lot in Utica while I was there, but their women’s team is picking up steam. This past year they finished 7th at DIII CWPA Championships. I started a men’s club team there and played with a local club in Rochester, NY. I returned home to Oak Park, IL in 2008 and began teaching and coaching at Fenwick High School with my dad, David Perry. I continue to play with a senior men’s team that works out of Fenwick called New World Order. I also run our summer program called Windy City Water Polo. At the high school level, we were the top club in the Midwest last summer and finished in the top 25 at USA Water Polo’s Junior Olympics. In addition to our high school program, Windy City also has an age group program for both boys and girls and a senior women’s team all of which have been very successful for the past several summers.