BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The new Kern High School District Aquatic Complex in Southwest Bakersfield was preparing to be packed for the summer as it brought in many competitors, coaches and fans but most importantly it was set to introduce KHSD's newest sport.
"There's still a lot of people in Kern County that don't even know what it is or that it exists even at a couple of the high schools," Jason Gall said.
Gall is talking about water polo. A sport still trying to make a permanent splash in the county. With the opening of the estimated 14-millions dollar Kern Aquatics Complex at the beginning of 2020, KHSD prepared to add the sport to at least 6-8 of its schools this upcoming school year starting with preparation in the summer.
"Basically three pools of water polo going all summer for summer league and just a lot of excitement and anticipation and adding it. And then the pandemic hit," KHSD Director of School Support Services Stan Greene said.
COVID-19 had a different agenda as it nearly further delayed the inaugural season for water polo due to the potential financial burden.
"I sent an email out to the athletic director saying hey it doesn't look like we're gonna offer this year. And then about two days later, we have some more conversations and it was like our board voted it in. We're gonna have it," Greene said.
While the sport hasn't been widespread, it has made its mark in town. One of those faces leading that effort has been the current water polo head coach at Garces Memorial, Jason Gall.
"There was no high school water polo in Kern County when I moved here 13 years ago," Gall said.
Gall brought attention to the sport at Cal State Bakersfield for ten years and has recently been leading the Rams to multiple championships. On top of Garces Memorial, Bakersfield Christian also competes in water polo.
Now, it's about growing more local competition.
"I hope to see all the high schools playing Boys and Girls Varsity JV, I hope to see multiple Valley champion teams each year, within different divisions. So to get to the point where, you know, we can play four or five-six different teams at a very high level in this area," Gall said.
Something Catherine Lugo, a former player for the Rams and current Coordinator of Aquatics for KHSD, can also agree on.
"Knowing the people who are still in it that were in it when I was playing in high school. I'm absolutely thrilled that we get a chance to bring those people, all together, have a, basically, home base for this new sport in the Kern High School District," Lugo said.
While the country still has a ways to go and more pools to build, with the new aquatic center being KHSD's first pool in 100 years, it's still a good first step for many who already love the sport.
"They have a new sport with this complex. It gave me a ton of pride for Bakersfield and a ton of pride in our sport. So I can just imagine it'll be doing the same for everyone else," Lugo said.