Fifteen years ago, it was all organizers could do to scrap together enough players to call it a water polo team. Most Bahamians had never watched the game referred to as soccer in a pool. Today water polo could just be the country’s hottest sport with Bahamas Mantas players bringing home the hardware from every tournament they enter.
But last weekend bringing home bronze instead of possible gold when the Under-18 boys got into the finals and had to withdraw a day before the match was played sparked a controversy that played out on social media.
Today, the team’s coach and committed parents weighed in to clarify what happened, call for greater funding from Bahamas Aquatics Federation (BAF), thank sponsors and explain how participation in a sport few have ever played is shaping their sons and building eligibility for university scholarships.
“We had to make an executive decision to bring the boys home,” said Coach Laszlo “Lotty” Borbely. “We knew when we went to Barbados what funds we had and what the schedule was. It was a shame because they played so well and had a real chance at gold. But we achieved what we went there to do which was to expose the team to the new rules that will be applied when they enter the Pan Am Games in Trinidad in August and to give them more experience against some of the teams they will be meeting.”
Getting to Barbados for the Central American Caribbean Swimming Federation Games was an uphill struggle after the Bahamas Aquatics Federation turned down funding, though in the end provided a stipend and allowed the Mantas to set up a gofundme page.
Lacking government funding for a sport in which their sons were becoming recognized worldwide, parents took it upon themselves to raise what they could. They held a two-day car wash with players and parents, including doctors and other professionals, washing cars. They sought sponsorships and succeeded with Comfort Suites, Paradise island, Sterling’s Hurricane hole Development, the Medent Group, Lowe’s Wholesale, the McPike Foundation and Nassau Agencies.
“The issue is there is there is only one club so we don’t get to play in The Bahamas. We have to travel for competition and training camps,” said Dr. Carnille Farquharson, whose 13-year-old is among the rising stars. “It is the only discipline in Bahamas Aquatics that has no competition at home. Each swim club has other clubs to vie against to improve and hone their competitive skills.”
What the local players do have is dedication and committed parents, says Coach ‘Lotty.’
“Parents are the backbone of the Mantas,” he said. “Without them, we would not have a water polo team. They are there every night – five nights a week for the older boys, four nights a week for the two younger groups – plus Saturdays.” They reach into their pockets to travel with the team or make sure their sons get to go as far as Hungary for a training academy.
All the hard work is paying off, he says.
“The first time I saw the Bahamas team, it was love (0) – 40 against Jamaica,” said ‘Lotty’ who was coaching Jamaica at the time. He was lured to The Bahamas and today, he says, he has no doubt the Bahamas could take on Jamaica and win.
In the last two years, the various age groups have brought home seven bronze medals, two silver and five gold and qualified for the Under -19 in the upcoming Pan Am Games, a qualifier for the Junior Olympics in 2020.
“Scouts are already looking at the team,” said the coach.