This year the OUA announced that women’s water polo would be removed as a competitive OUA sport since the minimum requirement of six participating teams was not met. Although the news came as a disappointing surprise to many schools around Ontario, Western was not fazed. The reason being that Western hasn’t had a women’s water polo team since the mid-80s, but female water polo athletes here at Western have always had a place to play.
According to Bill Terzis, the head coach of the Western men’s water polo team, women have been playing on the varsity team here at Western for over 30 years, despite the fact that the coed team plays in a men's Ontario University Athletics league.
“It’s not new. In fact going back at least until the mid-1980s, so a full 30-plus years, there has almost always been at least one woman on the men’s team,” Terzis said.
This year’s men’s water polo roster is no different, featuring Alana Cameron and Ashley Allen, two females athletes who consistently train and occasionally play with the Mustangs. Cameron was a competitive swimmer before she started playing water polo in high school, and when she came to Western she took a leap of faith trying out for the men's team.
“I joined the men's water polo team [at Western] because a women's team was not offered,” Cameron said. “My love for the sport pushed me to try out for the team even though I was initially worried to attend a men's try out.”
She's grateful she did, because after spending several years on the team, Cameron has come to cherish the opportunity.
“I love it because I have bonded with my team, I feel like a part of a team and I have built my skills significantly,” Cameron said. “Being on a men's team can definitely be tough considering the difference in skills and shape. However, I've come to realize what I am capable of if I push myself, maintain a positive attitude and maintain confidence in myself.”
Interestingly, having women on a men’s water polo team is a phenomenon associated with Western, as no other current OUA roster features any women. This inclusivity is something Western takes a lot of pride in.
“We have a pretty relaxed environment here and we’ve had compliments from the upper echelon of sport here at Western in the past for being [open to women] and an LGBT friendly team," according to Terzis. “Everybody gets treated the same… We basically ignore the effects of a person, we just treat them as an athlete.”
Although some may wonder if it's a distraction to have a couple of women playing on a primarily male water polo team, Terzis argues that because it has been that way for so long it has become normal among players.
“At this point I don’t think it’s a distraction at all because the [players] are just used to it,” Terzis said. “It has been like that. It wouldn't be any different than say the track and field team where men and women train together.”
For Cameron, the team environment is definitely different than past women’s teams she has been a part of, but it is successful nonetheless.
“Both [men’s and women’s] teams have an environment of social interaction, support, constructive criticism, competitiveness, hard work, and various other things, but the way these things occur is different,” Cameron explained. “My experience on the men's water polo team has been just as positive as on a women's team, it's just different.”
Now that the OUA has removed women’s water polo as a competitive sport, it will be interesting to see if other schools follow in Western’s footsteps and allow women to train and compete on the varsity team. It has worked for over 30 years here at Western, where inclusiveness and water polo go hand in hand.