For the first time ever a Rockford athlete has been chosen by USA Waterpolo—the sport’s national organization—as Athlete of the Month.
Conor Thelen was one of four seniors on the Rockford High School water polo team this season, and in an amazing tie-breaking move, all four contributed to the winning score, earning the team the state championship. Coach McWatters, proud of all his players, was compelled to nominate one to the organization for recognition.
Conor Thelen has been a water polo and swim athlete since it was first offered for his class in middle school. Now there are swim programs for even younger students, but the dedication shown by this year’s team was unbeatable—literally.
“I thought he was going to grow gills,” commented Maggie Thelen, his mother.
Coach McWatters had nothing but praise for Thelen, and was quick to note that it takes a whole team to foster the kind of success and leadership for which Thelen was recognized.
The wording on the USA Waterpolo website, submitted by McWatters says it all: Connor represents the best of the Rockford water polo tradition, a committed team player who sets the highest of standards in leadership and sportsmanship. Against the deepest and most challenging of competition, Connor has led his team to a 17th straight OK conference championship, the district title, and then, after taking third in regionals, to the Michigan state championship— the seventh in the last ten years.
With :43 second to play in the state championship game, the scored tied 10-10, Connor rose to shoot, committing the goalie to the near side but instead passed the ball to his team’s two-meter player, who stepped out to shoot cross cage shot. A perfect example of a great fake and great pass setting up the shot.
More important than any statistic is Connor’s immeasurable contribution to the team: demonstrating the power of resilience and perseverance through the toughest of times. He was able to lead a young team, gain their respect, and then when his team needed the play-maker with the pressure of the state title on the line, he rose to the challenge. Connor Thelen provides an excellent model for younger players to emulate.
Maggie Thelen said the sport has done so much for Conor. As a senior part of his leadership included being a role model for the younger players.
As in many sports, water polo requires year round practice, including lifting weights and running. “They start out on land in the weight room before they even begin swimming,” Thelen said. She said being part of the team has taught the boys many life skills.
“Water polo has made Conor a better athlete and leader,” Thelen said. “We are thrilled he has grown into the young man and we always hoped he would be.”