By: Harley Yearout
There is a very tightly knit sports community in Mesa that plays tournaments both at home and on the road. It’s not baseball, football, or even basketball.
It’s water polo.
Founded in 2012, Mesa Water Polo is the only competitive water polo club in the sunny state of Arizona.
“It’s a lack of awareness,” President of Mesa Water Polo Jennifer Leeper said.
Leeper’s husband, Troy, is the head coach of the club.
In a state with renowned warm weather year round, it seems a bit odd an outdoor sport that requires essentially just a pool and a ball hasn’t gained more traction.
“It’s exposure to it,” Colorado Water Polo head coach Craig Ackley said. “A lot of parents don’t know about it,” he said.
“It’s something that’s been giving all of us a headache,” Arizona State water polo assistant coach Petra Pardi said. “The weather is perfect, there are outdoor pools, it’s sunny year-round,” Pardi added.
The issue may be attributed to the fact that while most Arizona high schools offer a swim program, water polo isn’t offered.
“Swimmers are the only ones that are getting exposed to water polo,” Pardi said.
But some of the swimmers that have been exposed to water polo actually make the switch over. “We’ve got kids that’ve converted from [synchronized swimming], because it’s fun,” Leeper said.
“It’s just so much fun,” Trent Leeper, son of Jennifer and Troy Leeper said.
Leeper, 16, is an example of the opportunities that playing water polo can provide. He started playing when he was 10 years old and through his commitment to the sport, Leeper can talk to colleges about potential scholarships. However, unlike some other sports, Leeper also has the flexibility to go play professionally overseas if he so chooses.
“My goal is to play as long as possible,” Trent Leeper said.
While the club has grown from its start in 2012, people around the water polo community think there is still growth to be made.
“It definitely is more popular than it used to be, but we still have a long way to go,” Ackley said.
In a state like Arizona with pools on every corner and warm weather year-round, it seems like a fitting place to grow.
Mesa Water Polo is primarily located in the Kino Aquatic Center in Mesa, with some practices at Skyline Aquatic Center. The club is always looking to grow the sport and add players. Even if you’ve never played and aren’t the most experienced swimmer, contact Jennifer Leeper at 480-678-0934 or Jtleeper@yahoo.com.