by CINDY M. CRANMER
Rockford water polo was well represented with its number of teams and their finishes at the Meijer State Games recently.
More than 5,000 West Michigan athletes competed in events including archery, 3-D archery, basketball, BMX biking, bowling, boxing, cricket, cycling, disc golf, fencing, figure skating, golf, a fun run, hockey, judo, karate, lacrosse, mountain biking, pickleball, racquetball, rowing, rugby, skateboarding, various gun-shooting sports, softball, swimming, tae kwon do, track and field, volleyball, wakeboard, water polo and wrestling.
The water polo event included three Rockford area teams in its first year at the games.
The first Meijer State Games took place in 2010. Thousands of spectators now come out to watch the Parade of Athletes, the opening ceremonies and live entertainment and sports.
The games opened on Friday, June 22 with Olympic-style competitions held at venues throughout West Michigan including Rockford, Sparta, East Grand Rapids and the entire greater Grand Rapids area.
The Meijer State Games are modeled after the Olympics and have the philosophy of encouraging participation, good sportsmanship and healthy living.
Coach Dave McWatters tries to stress these values, among other things, to Rockford’s water polo teams.
McWatters said some area high schools sent players to Rockford’s team to be part of a unifying experience and to play.
“It’s really a combination of many other sports played in the water,” McWatters said of water polo. He said the sport has elements of soccer, lacrosse, basketball, hockey and swimming.
Each team has a goalie and six field players, who all swim throughout the game played in a deep pool, and try to score on the other goal. Players can only use one hand to field the ball or pass other than the goalie.
McWatters said it’s an honor that water polo was chosen as one of the 30-plus sports now being played at the Meijer State Games.
East Grand Rapids was the location for water polo games. Rockford put together two teams of current students, who were primarily from Rockford, and a team of students who graduated this year. The teams finished in second, third and sixth places out of about eight or
“We tried to get as many kids involved as possible including kids from other schools,” McWatters said.
Helping students learn to play together rather than always compete may foster sportsmanship during the season as well.
Rockford High School boys have had many successful seasons in their history. During the last 12 years, their team won eight of 12 state championships.
McWatters was key in starting a girls’ water polo team at Rockford as well. A former player, Scott Boltz, who was the goalie during the first state championship in 2000, now is the girls’ team coach.
McWatters said it became a lot to coach the boys in the fall, swimming in the winter and the girls’ team in the spring. A “great staff” coaches the junior varsity and female teams while McWatters coaches the varsity boys’ team. Craig Peterman is the junior varsity coach.
“The Meijer Games were the beginning of a terrific season,” McWatters said.
Rockford’s teams qualified at regionals with a second in the category of 18-and-under and with a third in the category of 16-and-under. This means they will be playing at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics in California in late July.
The second-place finish was out of 14 and the third out of nine teams. The boys played against teams put together from the entire “We’re excited. These will be the best teams in the country,” McWatters said. “Water polo is very quick moving. It’s a very exciting game to watch. It’s a very fun and exciting game to play.”
Joel Olson, a sophomore player, said he enjoyed the Meijer State Games and is looking forward to upcoming events. “I thought the games were fun,” Olson said. He started playing water polo during his seventh-grade summer and has enjoyed it since then.
Olson said McWatters’ coaching style is one thing that makes playing enjoyable; he is great about balancing out the positives and negatives. “Most coaches will yell when you do something wrong. Coach Dave tells you what you do well too. He balances it out,” Olson said.
Joel’s mother, Sally, thinks McWatters teaches his students good character and values as well as how to play. “Coach Dave is a man of character. He asks for that from his team,” she said.
She said the teams start bonding and attend meets and events together. With two days of practice and four days of games each week, Olson said students, and parents, start hanging out together away from water polo.
“It’s kind of special. We’re like a family. You get to know your teammates well,” Joel said. “Being involved with the team has taught me more than just how to play water polo.”