The story of Brooklyn water polo begins with Carl Quigley, ’75, Associate Athletic Director at St. Francis Brooklyn, who for 34 years (1975-2009) was head coach of the Terrier men’s water polo team, consistently one of the East’s best. Quigley has helped launch the careers of hundreds of young athletes, both with his college team and through Brooklyn Heights St. Francis Water Polo, the successor to the youth club he founded in 1979. Quigley spoke recently with New York City-based water polo journalist Michael Randazzo about coaching the Terriers, his age group club, the challenges of growing water polo in New York City and his hopes for a sport he has devoted his life to.
The following interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Michael Randazzo: How long have you been involved with St. Francis youth water polo?
Carl Quigley: I’ve been part of Brooklyn Height St. Francis Water Polo since it’s inception. Prior to that it was Terrier Water Polo and St. Francis Water Polo Club, beginning in 1979.
Randazzo: Who else is involved with the youth club?
Quigley: Bosko Stankovic [SFC ’14]; we have volunteers from the women’s water polo team [Melanie Brooks, ’18; Emma Gaffney, ’18; Rachelle Gonzales, ’18;]. The women’s traditional competition season is the spring so they help the kids out in the fall; the men’s traditional season is the fall [so] they help out in the spring.
Randazzo: Was having college athletes coaching kids part of why you started the club?
Quigley: I started this team really as a template for me to become a better coach. I felt I was deficient in a lot of areas when I first began [coaching] in terms of learning the game from the ground up. In working with handicapped kids—I was a graduate student at LIU [under] Gene Spatz—I was able to break skills down to minute levels; see what the act of throwing was, or what the act of swimming was, how I could get young people to improve through practice and through rote [learning] to get better at both swimming and water polo. The kids at that time were also coached by some of the college players. Forcing them to articulate the nuances of the game made them better athletes; they were forced to think about how it was to throw, to do a drive, to take a shot. All those things helped them in terms of their growth and development in the sport. No matter what level they were at, because they were forced to verbalize—whether they be from Serbia, Croatia, California or here in New York—it forced them to explain what it is that came so naturally to them.
Randazzo: In other words, by teaching the sport to kids, college-level athletes become better players.
Quigley: Not just athletes, but people. It’s part of what the sport of water polo has always been and generally sports across the board: you are given an opportunity to learn [a] sport and you want to pay it forward. It’s like [St. Francis], which is built on a Franciscan tradition of giving.
Randazzo: Over the club’s 36 years of existence what do you feel has been most successful?
Quigley: One is longevity. It has continued through tough times when we couldn’t get pool time. The demographics of the neighborhood have changed—we went from teams where we maybe had [one] group that was 16 and under and now we have 60 kids on our roster. And it’s growing by leaps and bounds, partially because of social media, partially from the efforts of the people on the [club’s] board and by word of mouth. The other is there’s water polo in Pennsylvania, there’s a group out in Connecticut that has tournaments almost two times a month, there’s the regular groups in Annapolis and even here in New York. [T]he growth of clubs where there were none—there were some high school teams at Trinity, Horace Mann and our own club—now there’s a group in Sheepshead Bay, there’s a group in Manhattan that we actually share the pool with. It’s important that we have this entity, St. Francis College, that’s growing the sport in multiple ways, by one sharing the pool and renting it to other [programs], and then in turn growing it beyond the borders of Brooklyn into Manhattan and elsewhere.
Randazzo: What challenges have you faced growing the sport at St. Francis?
Quigley: We had some very good teams; we had a fellow who made the Olympic team by the name of Wolf Wigo. A lot of kids who played with him got good because he was good, but we couldn’t [get] them to go to St. Francis.It’s a double-edged sword. I feel very good about the fact that Wolf went to Stanford and that a lot of his teammates played collegiately at the Naval Academy, at the University of Michigan, at MIT or across the nation. Or went to Iona; we had a whole bunch of players that went to Iona or Fordham. I encouraged [our players] to reach out and get away from being local. But for a period of time St. Francis took some hits because we weren’t getting a lot of the homegrown talent. They were going elsewhere.
Randazzo: How important is it to connect young athletes to an intercollegiate program?
Quigley: As a recruiting tool for Brown or any of the other colleges in the nation, if they run a camp—as the Naval Academy does—it’s important in terms of giving the individual exposure to them and for the student player to actually go there and experience what it is to live on campus. We had a situation like that in New York State: [at] the Empire State Games we took a scholastic team up to Syracuse or Buffalo and they lived as a college student. It was an amazing opportunity for the growth of the sport and for the growth of the kids to experience such a thing. The same thing happens in water polo camps at Arizona, at Pepperdine, at Brown. It’s an amazing opportunity for kids to leave their parents for five days and live at the Naval Academy and make a judgment: “Do I want to go to school here?” But more importantly, it opens their eyes to life after high school. St. Francis [didn’t] have the opportunity to run a camp like that here because of housing issues. We can do other things that help the student water polo player grow and open their eyes, whether it’s going to Villanova on a weekend to [play in the] American Water Polo League or going to Annapolis or to the Olympic Development program that USA Water Polo runs.
Randazzo: Is there something that you would liked to have changed?
Quigley: It’s all a matter of time in the pool…. In order to be good and be progressing you need to be in the pool five to six times a week, an hour and a half to two hours a session. It’s really not possible to do that [at St. Francis]. In New York we don’t have enough aquatic opportunities for kids when they’re younger. We have 30 – 35 kids in our pool [practicing regularly] but they need more pool time, they need more dedicated coaches, they need more opportunities, and until they get them, they’re not going to be as good as players in other parts of the country that have access to many more hours of pool time. [In California] on one campus you have three or four pools that can host tremendous aquatics events. In New York City we don’t have one venue that can host anything like that. We play water polo [at St. Francis] at the very highest level in the college ranks [but] have a pool that is not even one-half of the actual playing field required by FINA for a water polo match. What can you do about such things? You work with what you have and do what you can. I just wish I could have built a pool.