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70+ And Not Just Treading Water

May 25, 2024 4 min read 2 Comments

70+ And Not Just Treading Water

Lee Feinswog of the Channel Islands Sharks loads up to shoot in the World Aquatics Masters Championships in Doha. Lee said the Sharks' resolve mixed with skill earned the 70+ team a silver medal. Read on about how these Geezer Jocks turned a luckless week into an inspiring week.

 

By Ray Glier

You have to look through the opposite end of the viewfinder to see the makeup of a team or, in other words, to see what it has going for it that has nothing to do with skill.

We're talking about intangibles, of course. These things unseen help explain how the Channel Islands Sharks, a 70+ Water Polo team, flew into a cosmos of calamity at The World Aquatics Masters Championships in Doha, Qatar, and still came away with a silver medal.

The squad was put together to win a gold medal.

A trapdoor of injuries and illness opened beneath them. Nobody was waiting on them to to heal. They had to play.

A serious medical issue robbed the 11-man team of a very good player before it ever left home. Then, on the first night in Doha, Jim Yates fainted on a restaurant floor. The same mysterious sickness claimed Bryan Weaver, the founder of masters water polo in the U.S., who was knocked off his feet for several days.

Two matches into the tournament, an appendicitis and emergency surgery claimed the splendid Brazilian swimmer George Sanches.

Larry Krauser, who won the 70+ age group 100-meter race and finished second in the 800, had unexplained pain in his upper arm in the third game and had to go to the hospital for x-rays.

You need seven players for Water Polo. The Sharks finished one match with seven, but alternately had eight or nine, which isn't optimal for a 70+ water polo team. They lost to a team from Dusseldorf, Germany, 11-6, in the gold medal match.

A physically exhausting sport was mentally exhausting, too. It would have been appropriate to throw this water polo team life jackets.

Instead, it was the poise of age that kept them afloat.

“Obviously, we had a lot of really good water polo players, but it was about everyone keeping their composure,” said Lee Feinswog of Baton Rouge, who happens to be a sportswriter friend of Geezer Jock.

“No matter what happened throughout the tournament, we all showed up every day and there was never any discouraging words, or discontent, no matter what happened.”

This was a put-together team with a lot talent, but with little experience together in the water. Larry Krauser, Jim Yates, Rich Faber, and Feinswog played together in the 2023 Worlds in Japan and got bronze in the 65+ division, but mostly it was guys having to find cohesiveness and trust very quickly.

“It felt like there was a lot of great nonverbal communication in terms of passing and receiving,” Lee said. “And then we rallied a couple of times, which was really cool.”

It helps in water polo, like hockey, to have a standout goalie and the Sharks had that in Faber.

The team also had royalty. Jim Ferguson was on the 1972 USA Water Polo team that won bronze in the Munich Olympics. Ben Gage is the son of the world famous competitive swimmer and actress Esther Williams.

Most of all the Sharks had resilience and a sense of humor. Jim Ferguson pulled a groin muscle during the tournament. Feinswog suggested he see a groinacologist. Ferguson saw a trainer instead and had it taped and played on.

Feinswog, meanwhile, hit his right hand on the head of a competitor on the follow-through of a shot. His ring finger was jammed into the knuckle. He jerked it out and continued to play.

It was like this all week. Their path was lit by flickering bulbs. It's OUT. No, it's ON. Something luckless kept getting in the way and they kept swatting it away.

Skill and resolve kept bailing out the Sharks.

Like this:

With eight players, which meant one sub, in a match with Slovakia, the Sharks were in a tie game, 5-5, with 1 minute, 36 seconds left. That’s when Yates rifled a shot—his only shot of the game—from the right side. It was a game-winner.

Yates was the guy who fainted on the restaurant floor the first night and didn’t come out of his hotel room for three nights. It was some unknown virus, or flu, or food-poisoning.

Kiko Francisco of Brazil showed his speed in the water winning 18 of 20 swims for the ball. Rich Esterkin was a clamp-down defender.

Feinswog was the Sharks’ leading scorer with nine, which only added to the screwy and unhinged week, he said.

“If you have ever played with me, or been a teammate of mine, the idea that I would be the leading scorer in a tournament has to make you laugh,” Lee said. “That was not lost on me.”

Feinswog is 69, but because he turns 70 in August he was allowed to team with the true graybeards, the 70 and older crew.

There is a very Geezer Jock lesson in what the Sharks accomplished thousands of miles from home. This lesson does have something to do with skill.

“I know a lot of guys my age, and guys who I play with, try to play with younger players whenever possible, but it’s hard,” Lee said. “You just lose your speed and you lose your ability to get up in the water.

“But our skills stay the same because we work against guys in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. You know if you watched us play, I think our skill level is still extremely high. We just don't get back and forth like we did when we were younger.”

They may not get back and forth like they used to, but they know to get up in the water and compete.

Please share this story and support Geezer Jock ® with contribution or buying merchandise.

Ben Gage.

1972 Olympian Jim Ferguson.

Rich Esterkin with the ball, but it was without the ball where he really shined.

Rich Faber in goal.

Kiko Francisco had the chops and the shot and fast swimming.

 

The Sharks show off their hard-earned silver.


2 Responses

Kelly Stater
Kelly Stater

May 25, 2024

What an amazing story! I read Lees account as well as yours, and it was remarkable what this team accomplished!
Great job guys.

Patti Baker
Patti Baker

May 25, 2024

I enjoy all your geezer jock stories but this one is extra special. These guys are extra tough in a tough sport.

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