Junior Emily shares her experience as the only girl on her water polo team in Jamaica
People make movies about girls overcoming the odds and participating in competitive sports on all-boy teams. For junior Emily, those movies describe her actual life.
In sixth grade, Emily, who lived in Jamaica at the time, joined a water polo team for the first time. She had been swimming since she was 3 years old, started competitive swimming when she was 6, and finally, joined a club swimming team when she was ten.
Emily eventually “lost [her] passion for swimming and didn’t start again until [she] got to Hockaday, but polo gave [her] something else to do in the pool,” she says. Though she had tried other pool activities like synchronized swimming, nothing gave her a “thrill” like water polo.
“Polo is face-to-face, one-on-one competition,” she explains.
During Emily’s first year of playing water polo, the Jamaican national coach, Laszlo Borbely from Hungary, trained her all-girls school team and led them towards their first prep school championship they ever had in water polo.
“We had the ‘girls can do it better’ mentality,” says Emily.
Though Emily attended an all-girls school in sixth grade, she later switched to Hillel Academy, a coed middle and high school. Instead of surrendering the sport because there were no girls on the water polo team at her new school, Emily took on the challenge of being the only girl on the boys’ team.
“[It] was a bit intimidating, especially coming from an all-girls environment, but I was more experienced than some of the guys, so I was comfortable with my ability to train and compete against boys,” Emily says.
Emily assures, however, that the boys on her team did not treat her any differently. “They just expected that I could do what they did,” she says. For the boys on other teams that did treat her differently, Emily says she “just pushed through it.”
Instead, Emily took advantage of the fact that she was the only girl because her team would throw her the ball if “they knew the other team was too scared to come near a girl.”
One of Emily’s old teammates at Hillel Academy, senior Gregory Barbar, says, “Emily on a whole was as good as any of the guys on the team. I was really surprised when I had seen Emily playing because I had previously known her and did not know that she played.”
Though Hockaday does not have its own water polo team, Bobbie Barr, Department Chair of Physical Education, currently teaches fifth grade as a P.E. rotation. “I decided to include it in the aquatics curriculum over ten years ago because I wanted to offer a broader range of competitive aquatics activities to our students, wanted to learn something new myself, knew I had a good resource in the St. Mark’s coach, and it looked like a lot of fun…to do and to teach,” she says.
Mihai Oprea, Aquatics Coordinator and Head Varsity Coach of Water Polo and Swimming at St. Mark’s, supports the idea of a girl joining an all-boy water polo team when there is no option to play on a girl’s team.
“That would be an opportunity for her to get stronger, faster and quicker,” Oprea says.” Maureen O’Toole, the former captain of our Women’s National and Olympic Team, grew up playing in California on boys’ teams. She eventually became World MVP six times.”
However, because the St. Mark’s water polo team is not coed, it would not be possible for a Hockaday student to join the St. Mark’s team. Because of this, Oprea states “it would be a very positive addition” to add a Hockaday water polo team to the athletics program. “On top of that, it would be good for St. Mark’s too. We are the only team in North Texas without a girl’s program.”
Though Emily wishes Hockaday had its own water polo team, she is grateful for the experiences she encountered with her teams in Jamaica.
“It definitely taught me not to be afraid,” she says. “People think because you’re a girl, you always need to be like, ‘I’m a girl. I can do what boys do,’ but it taught me that you can use the advantage of being a girl in a different way.”