The 19 kids on Dalton’s water polo team did more than just win two matches.
They helped pioneer a new sport in the Carpet Capital.
For the first time, the Dalton area has a water polo team, and Saturday was the first time the sport was played on an organized level. There were two home games for the Dalton squad at the Dalton Recreation Center pool, with Dalton winning both against Lakeside-Dekalb.
The sport gained some extra attention from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and Dalton Middle and High swim coach and Carpet Capital swim coach Charles Todd kickstarted the project a few months ago.
“I’ve had some donations to help with goals,” said Todd, who coached a water polo team at Miami’s Palmedo High from 1987-1996. “I’m still looking for donations for things like a shot clock. We had a pretty good crowd turnout (Saturday). We had maybe 100-150 people total. Most people see it on the Olympics.”
There are seven players, six plus a goalkeeper, on each side. Taking place in the pool, players are not allowed to touch the bottom and must swim the entire time. To score, players must throw the ball past the goalie and into the goal, similar to soccer or hockey, but must attempt a shot within 30 seconds of gaining possession.
Players can pass to one another or swim with the ball but cannot protect possession by putting it under water. Offensive players cannot swim inside the 2-meter line if he or she has possession of the ball. If a defensive player commits a foul inside of the 5-meter line and prevents a “probable goal,” according to the rule sheet passed out to spectators Saturday, then the attacking team gets a penalty throw from 5 meters. If a foul occurs outside of the line, an attacker can take an immediate shot at the goal. There are minor fouls and major fouls. A player can commit as many minor fouls, usually an impedmentyo the movement of a player without the ball, as he or she wants. However, three major fouls equals an ejection from the match.
For Terry Mathis — father of Taylor Mathis, Dalton High senior and one of the Dalton team members — this was a completely new sport.
“I knew nothing about water polo before,” he said. “All the matches have been in Atlanta or Cumming before (Saturday). They were playing more-experienced teams, but it’s been cool to see how they have developed. We were really surprised how aggressive or rough water polo can be. There’s a lot of rough under water activity that goes on.”
Introducing the sport, and answering questions about its specifics, has been just as big a part as swimming, passing and scoring. Lakeside-DeKalb coach A.K. Mashhoon has gone through the question-answer session a number of times since his program started in 2011.
“To this day,” he said about whether he gets inquiries. “The rules change in this sport all the time, as if the rules weren’t difficult enough to begin with.”
Taylor Dale became a three-time GHSA state champion last season for the Catamounts swimming team, and his water talents helped transition to the new sport.
“If you have a swimming background, it makes it easier,” said Dale, who is Dalton’s captain and was featured on America Water Polo’s website at americanwaterpolo.com.
But some kids do not have a lot of experience racing in a pool.
“Our team has a combination of people from different backgrounds, but swimming speed helps us win most of our matches,” Taylor Mathis said.
Mashhoon called it a success for the sport that the Dalton area now has a program and 20 kids early in its life.
“You’re introducing them to a game where the learning curve is really steep,” he said. “It’s almost like introducing soccer to a cross country runner. All of the sudden, there is more complexity involved and you have to use more mind than muscle.”
Since it is not a Dalton High team, there can be students from any school in the area. While most of the kids are from Dalton High, two — Zachary Renard and Gavin Thompson — are Northwest Whitfield freshmen.
Renard said Northwest’s community swim coach, Marta Hannah, asked him to join.
“At first I ignored her, but finally decided to do it and liked it,” he said. “It’s like soccer, except you can use your hands and it’s in the water. If it was just swimming, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Thompson said he was swayed by watching the London action.
“It was pretty much the Olympics and seemed pretty cool,” he said. “One of the reasons I like it is it gives me a workout. Plus, it is original. No one else is doing it.”
Pierson Scarborough and Dale each scored four times in a 9-5 win against Lakeside Dekalb’s A team while Michael O’Brien added a goal. Matthew Franey made five saves as the goalie.
In a 16-2 win against the B team, Mathis had four goals, Luis Rosales had three goals, Scarborough had two, William Duffie had one goal and one assist, Franey had one goal, Hunter Mulkey had two goals and Renard and Thompson each had one goal. Dale had 11 saves in goal. Dalton is now 5-5 overall and 2-2 in Division A play. It competes in the 16-team Georgia High School Water Polo Association.
“We’re undefeated at home,” Todd said.