The water polo class at Philadelphia Youth Camp 2017 was guaranteed to be a big improvement over last year, regardless of the actual instruction, for one important reason: A majestic fabric and metal shade structure now engulfs the south side of the pool deck. Dorms 3B and 1B huddled underneath the shade behemoth as if terrified of the sun before their water polo contest on Friday afternoon, July 14.
I wasn’t there for five minutes before my brother Micah was thrown in the pool for knighting himself the gallant savior of the green machine, 3B. To further humble my humorous brother, photographer Reese Zoellner whispered to me a joke about Micah’s white water polo bonnet just as he walked within earshot. Micah’s harsh treatment reminded me of the good-natured jostling that I experienced as a camper seven years ago.
Dorm 3B started the game defending the shallow end and shooting at the deep-end goal. Micah expended some of his pent-up energy on the first shot of the game, a missile that skimmed off the water and soared over top of the net. He redeemed himself shortly thereafter, scoring three quick goals from the right side, the third one with a defender illegally draped across his back.
Just when 1B appeared shell-shocked, their goalie made a nifty save that turned into a breakaway goal down at the shallow end. First-time camper Jaden of 3B responded with two goals, one resulting from a beautiful lob pass over the defense, and the other from a rebound after the goalie denied Micah’s bounce shot from mid-pool.
As 1B attempted an aggressive counterattack in the shallow end, Virgilio and Noah stayed strong on defense, knocking the ball away during a couple furious, splashing scrums. The first quarter ended with 3B in the lead, 5-1.
Describing his confidence after a strong first quarter, Micah declared: “I feel like a mustached lion dragging a gazelle through the Serengeti.”
The teams switched sides for the second quarter, meaning it was 1B’s turn to shoot at the much easier deep end. Two 1B goals prompted Micah, the team captain for the contest, to insert himself as the new goaltender. He allowed one more goal before water polo instructor Nick Irwin blew the whistle for halftime, with 3B now clinging to a precarious advantage, 5-4, as inscribed on a small poolside whiteboard by assistant instructor Stephanie Cocomise.
“So let’s not put half of the effort in,” 3B’s Elisha cracked. Punny.
Counselor Josué Michels exhorted 3B to keep up the teamwork and enthusiasm, and cried out that pain is only temporary, but the reward is eternal. “If we’re smiling, we’re winning!” 3B chanted repeatedly. I reminded them that, technically, they would need to score more goals than 1B in order to win.
With 3B attacking the deep end once again, Micah bounced a shot that handcuffed the goalie and trickled across the goal line. Jaden scored again, after which Micah scored thrice more. Dorm 1B answered with a goal, but then Jaden cherry-picked an easy goal by hanging out behind the defense until the ball finally came his way. 1B closed the period with another goal, cutting 3B’s lead to 11-6.
Dorm 1B was down, but they would not quit. They scored immediately after the fourth quarter began, so Micah began playing a sort of second goalie about 10 feet in front of the actual goalie. He blocked five or six shots in a row before 1B snuck a shot past both goalies and into the net.
But 1B was not finished yet. Jude scored despite two 3B defenders guarding him closely, then again after his team executed a dazzling tic-tac-toe passing play.
It was desperation time for 3B. Each time they took possession in their defensive end, they hurled the ball as far as they could into the shallow end, eventually causing the clock to strike midnight on 1B’s valiant resurgence. Dorm 3B survived, 11-10.
“Thanks for spectating, Mr. Turgeon!” 3B roared at the end of class before enveloping me in a manly group hug.