A Short History of St. Louis Water Polo by Wally Lundt

The game of Water Polo received world-wide sanction as an Olympic event at the 1904 World’s Fair here in St. Louis.  This combination of a World’s Fair and the Olympics drew athletes from around the world who came to participate in the usual Olympic individual events.  Water Polo was the first team sport ever played in the Olympics.  It was played in a muddy lagoon in Forest Park with an under-inflated, soft ball which could be submerged by a player and then moved underwater.  There were few rules and the game was so rough that all European teams boycotted the event.

European Water Polo was brought to St. Louis by Carl O. Bauer from Germany when he became Athletic Director of the Missouri Athletic Club in the 1920’s.  In 1927 when the Meramec River Patrol was formed by Carl Bauer and Commodore Flint of the American Red Cross, Water polo was used as a conditioning activity for this organization dedicated to rescuing swimmers who were in trouble on our nearby rivers.  Most Missouri Athletic Club players were members of the Meramec River Patrol.

Carl Bauer and the MAC hosted the 1946 Olympic Water Polo Trials in St. Louis at Marquette pool in south St. Louis.  The St. Louis team came in second.  First place went to the Olympic Club from San Francisco, California.

In 1950 the MAC won the A.A.U. Junior National Water Polo Championship in Detroit, Michigan.  Also in 1950 and 1951 the MAC won the Mid-Atlantic Championships in Bermuda.  Three St. Louis players received National A.A.U. “All American” honors that year.  They were field players Richard Newman and Barry Queensen, and goalie Don Clooney.

Richard Newman was elected in the United States Water Polo Hall of Fame in 1982, and was elected as a member of the Missouri Hall of Fame in 1991.

In the mid-1960’s the St. Louis Water Polo Association was founded.  A summer league made up of 7 to 9 teams from the Greater St. Louis Area played a weekly schedule of games at Clayton Shaw Park.  In 1968 the Clayton Invitational Water Polo Tournament was started.  For 54 years this July tournament has attracted teams from around the Midwest, the South, Canada, the Caribbean and one summer a junior national team from Holland.  It is the longest running annually held water polo tournament in the country.

In 1968 the St. Louis Water Polo Association hosted the Senior National Indoor Championships at Rang Pool at Lambert Field.  There were three St. Louis teams, two California teams, two Chicago teams and the University of Indiana team.  The St. Louis Water Polo Club “A” Team, coached by Wally Lundt, finished second.  The Downey Club of California was the winner.  The St. Louis “A” Team, an all-star team, was made up of Dan and Don Casey, Jim Spiegel, Allen Leet, Alan Stiffelman, Bennett Katz, Steve Rennard, Morton May, Ron Roman, Joe Guigon, and Don Clooney.  Other players from St. Louis included Mark Kessler, Steve Stiffelman, Art Kelley, Dick Newman, Chris Mutrux, Bill Patten, Gary Miller, Robert Amelung and Jerry Scherbel.

In 1971 Clayton hosted the A.A.U. Junior Olympics Water Polo Tournament, a nationwide meet for 15 year olds and under.  The Clayton Water Polo Club took the gold.

In 1960 Coach Wally Lundt of Clayton High School felt that swimmers needed a Fall team sport as a conditioning activity to precede the winter swimming season.  He persuaded two other area swimming coaches, Steve Neilson of Ladue High School and Bill Pohlman of University City High School, to form the first Water Polo High School League in St. Louis.  During the 60’s, Clayton was the dominant team.  They won the District Championship in 1960, ’61, ’62, ’65, ’67, ’68, ’70, ’71, and for the last time in 1974.  University City took the honors in ’63 & ’64.  Ladue won in ’73. St. Louis University High School joined the league in 1961 and captured first place in ’66 and ’69.  In 1962 a freshman – sophomore team schedule was added.  During the 60’s, the following teams joined the high school league: Cleveland, Lindbergh, Hancock, Mehlville, Webster Groves, Parkway Central and Country Day.  In the early ‘70’s, Principia, Affton, Parkway West and Berkeley added teams.  By the mid-70’s, Parkway North and Oakville swelled the number of teams to fourteen.  Teams joining since 1980 were Parkway South, John Burroughs, Eureka, Marquette, Rockwood Summit, Lafayette, Chaminade, DeSmet, Kirkwood, Fort Zumwalt West, CBC and Pattonville. Over the years, some of those schools dropped the sport – Cleveland, Hancock, Principia, Affton, Berkeley, U. City, Webster and Ft. Zumwalt West.

The league is currently at 21 boys teams – two original public school founders (Clayton and Ladue), the private schools SLUH, MICDS (formerly Country Day), DeSmet, Chaminade, John Burroughs and CBC, all four Parkway schools, all four Rockwood schools, Kirkwood, Lindbergh, Mehlville & Oakville, and Pattonville.  In 2020, Mike Clay of Ladue and Rob Peglar of Kirkwood petitioned the MSHSAA Board of Directors to add girls water polo as an emerging sport, and the Board approved the petition.  The first year, of league play for girls 2021, included five schools – Marquette (district champion), Oakville, Lafayette, Ladue, and Parkway North.  In 2022, Kirkwood and Parkway West joined. Oakville won the district championship in 2022.