Sept. 16, 2011
BERKELEY - Cal fans traveling to San Francisco to watch the football team play Presbyterian this Saturday (Sept. 17) will be able to enjoy a special treat as former members of the Golden Bears men's water polo team will act like polar bears as they take on members of the Olympic Club in the frigid waters of McCovey Cove. The exhibition water polo match, free to the general public, begins at 1 p.m., prior to the 2:30 p.m. start of the football game at AT&T Park.
"We wanted to do something fun and exciting and play water polo in an uncharted area," said Michael Sharf, one of the organizers of the event and a key member of Cal's NCAA championship squads of 2006 and 2007. "We were also inspired by a NY Times article Playing Out of Place. Teams in Europe play in the sea and ocean so why don't we do it in the U.S.? This is a great opportunity to give water polo some exposure and have a great time."
The match in the San Francisco Bay will include some of the nation's top water polo players, ranging from ages 22 to over 50. At least 12 players competing have been members of NCAA championship squads and five are former members of the USA National Team, including Sharf, who was the 2007 NCAA tournament MVP. Also participating will be former Bear goalie Mark Sheredy, the 2006 NCAA tournament MVP, and Brian Dudley, who recently completed his eligibility at Cal after a stellar career and is a member of the South African National Team. Along with Sharf, two members of the Bears' 2007 national championship squad - Mike Sample and Thomas Pearson - were instrumental in organizing the first-ever water polo match in McCovey Cove.
The exhibition match Saturday will have a full 25 yard course with two cages, a shot clock, scoreboard and a referee in a boat. The contest will last for four-12 minute running quarters. Players will not be wearing wetsuits.
"Due to the renovation at Berkeley's Memorial Stadium, the majority of Cal football's schedule is played at San Francisco's beloved AT&T Park this season," said Pearson. "After this year, the football games will return to Memorial Stadium, so this short window of time has given us all the unique opportunity to make history by organizing the first (and maybe only) official AT&T Park McCovey Cove Water Polo Match. This is a great chance kick off the Bear's football season, promote our sport, and have an awesome experience."
Some additional quotes on Saturday's water polo match in McCovey Cove:
"We all love the sport of water polo, but unfortunately it has grown very slowly over the years," said Sharf. "During Game 5 of the 2002 World Series my teammates and I at Miramonte High in Orinda convinced Bill Brown, the long time varsity water polo coach, to let us off practice to drop a cage in McCovey Cove. We had a great time and really enjoyed the atmosphere, but the session didn't do much for the sport. Last year some current and former Cal players dropped a cage during the Giant's World Series run and had a pretty good response. After seeing that, Tom Pearson reached out to some of us on the Olympic Club water polo team to see if we would be interested in playing if he organized a game before a Cal football game. When we all gave him the green light, he pulled in Mike Sample and started getting this together. As they got closer to the day of the proposed game they brought me on board as the course specialist since I have prior experience setting up a cage in the cove. It is a fantastic opportunity to show other people the sport that we love.
"We were originally going to wear wetsuits, but when some older veterans got wind of this - they chastised us to the point that we decided to play in Speedos. We're expecting the water temp to be in the high 50's low 60's so it's going to be a cold one out there. One of the members of the Olympic Club actually threatened us by saying we would be setting the sport back 50 years if we played in wetsuits."
"The idea this water polo match in McCovey Cove originated when we were walking to a Cal Water Polo Alumni dinner in San Francisco," explained Pearson. "Traditionally, the Cal Mens' Water Polo Alumni game is played before a home Cal football game, but since the Bears were going to play in AT&T Park this season, we thought it was a great idea to plan the alumni game in the cove. A couple of our friends and teammates have floated cages and shot in the cove during the World Series, but no one has ever executed a full length organized game. So we just decided to do it. And, a couple weeks later our little idea for a pick-up game has turned into this.
"The only thing I am excited for is when the first whistle is blown and the game has started. Then I will put a big smile on my face and appreciate the fact that this is actually happening. Because when it is all over with, the main reason we are organizing this game is to bring together old friends and teammates and play the sport we love."
"The McCovey Cove game all started with an idea to bring together the polo community, honor the Bears, and do something awesome in the city we love," said Sample. "Since the initial conversation with some polo buds over dinner a few months ago, that one idea has morphed into something very special. Water polo has served to touch the lives of everybody playing, and many of the people watching on Saturday, and to be able to give the sport some big time attention is really exciting. I am most excited to see the look on my teammates' face...that we actually did it and take a look up and see that sweet stadium."
List of Former Golden Bears slated to compete versus the Olympic Club in McCovey Cove: Michael Sharf Mike Sample Thomas Pearson Mike Hayes Mark Sheredy Derek Schauffler Zac Monsees Andrew Nesbit Travis Read Peter Conte Will Quist Zach White Spencer Warden Spencer Dornin