Making a splash

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John Browne
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Local water polo club hopes invitational tournament will help rejuvenate sport

Water polo has no place to go but up, so Garth Murphy and others are putting off a tournament this weekend to raise the profile of the sport.

There are two St. John's teams in the event - Home and Away - along with a combined team from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and a squad from St-Pierre et Miquelon. All games will be played at the Aquarena.

St. John's Water Polo Club member Joe Singleton looks to pass during practice at the Aquarena Wednesday. The team plays host to a combined team from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and a squad from St. Pierre et Miquelon at an invitational tournament at the

Water polo has no place to go but up, so Garth Murphy and others are putting off a tournament this weekend to raise the profile of the sport.

There are two St. John's teams in the event - Home and Away - along with a combined team from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and a squad from St-Pierre et Miquelon. All games will be played at the Aquarena.

The tournament begins nine o'clock tonight and concludes 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

The sport went from about 150 participants in the 1980s to zero about a year and a half ago, said Murphy, the St. John's Water Polo Club coach. There are about 40 players 22 years and over currently playing. About 80 per cent of them are former players and the other 20 per cent are newcomers to the sport with a swim or lifeguard background, according to Murphy.

He said while the current local competition would be considered recreational level, "We still have some very good players involved."

"St. John's has gone through a resurgence in water polo over the last year," explained Murphy.

He hopes a four-team tournament at the Aquarena will help rejuvenate a sport that had just about disappeared from the local scene in recent years despite a "deeply rooted" history.

The tourney will also provide a much needed warm-up for the St. John's team which will attend the Dalhousie Open in March.

Murphy credited David Harrington, a player he coached at one time, as the person most responsible for the sport's comeback.

Murphy said the decline started when the sport lost some funding and "couldn't keep the people we needed.

"It fell to fewer and fewer people to do more and more and that was the beginning of the end," Murphy said.

The province has produced several outstanding water polo teams from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s including a national juvenile championship team in 1985, a national junior championship in 1987 and the Canadian University Games title in 1991.

St. John's also played host to the national junior championships in 1986 where the home team won a silver medal and in 1994 as well as hosting the national senior championships in 1977. The province won the national juvenile championship in 1985, the national junior championship in 1987 and the Canadian University Games in 1991.

Newfoundland and Labrador has also sent many players to represent Canada in many international competitions, including 1988 All American Scott Burt who became the first Newfoundlander to achieve the honor in his freshman year at the University of California at Santa Barbara which he attended on a full NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) athletic scholarship.

The tournament games this weekend will be refereed by Gaetan Turcotte and Carl Burt, both FINA referees who have represented Canada in may international tournaments all over the world. Turcotte officiated the gold medal game at the recent Beijing Olympics.

Admission to all games is free and anyone who is looking for more information on water polo in St. John's can get it at the tournament.

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Aquarena, Water Polo Club, Canadian University Games Dalhousie Open National Collegiate Athletic Association University of California at Santa Barbara Beijing Olympics

Geographic location: St. John's, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick Canada Newfoundland and Labrador

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