Water Polo Sells Out!

I have this recurring dream of late. In it, I am a guest on Jeopardy, and I am kicking butt. In fact, I am shutting out my two outmatched opponents. How am I doing it? Merely by buzzing in and saying, “Alex, that would be ‘What is Stanford University?’”.

After literally minutes of psychoanalysis I have come up with a potential reason for this occurrence – perhaps it’s because virtually every event that I attend these days features the Stanford Cardinal:

• The West Regional host site of the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships
• The site of the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Final Four
• The winning team of the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship
• The country’s #1 rated women’s water polo team, and national finalist

Buzz, buzz, buzzzz, buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. “Alex, that would be ‘What is Stanford University?’”.

It’s not that I’m somehow manifesting my inner 12-foot dancing tree. It’s just that Stanford is that good at hosting and playing that many sports. So please trust me when I tell you that months ago when I scheduled the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championships as one of my Hot 100 events to see, I did not know that Stanford would once again be there to greet me. Honest – I am not lobbying the folks in Palo Alto for an Honorary Degree in Letters. Now, if one were to be offered…

The San Diego State University Aztec Aquaplex is in the heart of the school’s athletic complex, and the walk from the parking deck to the Aquaplex took us through an impressive collection of new and renovated facilities. It probably shouldn’t have surprised me that as we passed Tony Gwynn Stadium, around the corner came walking…Tony Gwynn. He is the SDSU baseball coach after all, but it got me to wondering if perhaps we shouldn’t stop off at John Wayne Airport on the way home and start walking around. You know, just to see if…well, never mind.

We arrived in time to take in a couple of the consolation round games – almost three hours before the National Championship game between Stanford and USC was to be played, only to find that the only tickets left were Standing Room Only. It was my first inkling that water polo was indeed all that to those that play and follow the sport. Granted, the Aztec Aquaplex only seated about 1,000 people at best, but I couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of the fact that just one week ago at the Pac-10 Heptathlon & Decathlon Championships I was one of about 75 fans in a stadium with a capacity of about 23,000.

At this point in our story, let’s take some time to talk about quality event management. Truth be told, there is no such thing as a Standing Room Only section at the Aztec Aquaplex, nor is there a specific SRO ticket. The event managers made up the concept, pretty much on the spot. See, every ticket sold to the event was a General Admission one – there were no assigned seat numbers, probably because there were no seat numbers affixed to the bleachers themselves. As more and more people showed up to buy tickets, at some point in the afternoon the event management team calculated that when those that had purchased tickets in advance began to arrive there would be no place left for them to sit. Not wanting to turn away eager Sports Fans such as yours truly, and certainly not desirous of the scene that would have unfolded prior to the National Championship game when the rightful seat holders found themselves shut out of same…they improvised.

Adjacent to the far end of the water polo pool is the pool used for diving competitions, beyond which lies a roughly 15’ by 50’ concrete deck. Since the diving pool itself is only about twenty feet in width, the view of the action from the far deck was actually fairly decent. To get there however, one had to make their way through the “Credential Only” media and team facilities. No problem: When we arrived, the event team was actively laying out a marked trail that would bring us SRO guinea pigs through the tennis complex and onto that concrete deck from behind. They were staffing it on the fly with ticket checkers, and had even rigged a temporary concession stand back there. And in a stroke of pure genius, somebody had figured out that they could bring some small rollaway bleachers onto the deck, converting our “Standing Room Only” area into the equivalent of a private suite, shared with the teams themselves as they made their way to and from the pool, and warmed up in the diving pool at our feet.

And then the USC band showed up, presumably unannounced.

Again, no problem – another set of bleachers, right next to ours. By the time all was said and done, we had a far better game experience than we would have had if the event staff had just crossed their fingers and hoped that the overflow crowd could just squeeze their way into the bleachers without incident. Few of the people that were impacted or potentially impacted by this situation had any clue about the scramble that was taking place, such was the aplomb with which it was being carried out. But as someone who bears the emotional scars of holding the clipboard at previous Sporting Events Gone Sideways, I knew exactly what was transpiring. And I was impressed.

To be continued…

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