• Series of photos of a black student swimmer playing water polo

      A collage of Luc Garwood in action (Photos – Allison Garwood)

      I was lucky to interview Luc Garwood, Muir freshman and water polo player, his Mom Allison Garwood, and his water polo coach Micol Issa.

      By Scott Phelps

      Luc had been chosen for the Olympic Development Program in water polo. He had scored the dramatic winning goal as time expired in Muir’s CIF Championship win last fall.

      Loving the Water and Getting into Water Polo: Nurture and Nature

      Luc said he first got interested in water polo in 2015, at 6 yrs. old in first grade. His parents enrolled him in Splash Ball at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, which Mom said is a program for kids 4 to 8.  It is an introduction to water polo.  Luc said he was already taking swimming lessons and Allison was teaching him too.  “From when he was about 2 we started swim classes at the Y,” Allison said, “I loved the water, but he just innately always loved the water, he wanted to go way further in the ocean than I would let him.” Luc said, “It’s kind of freeing. You can move around and float underwater; I really like it.”  Luc said he likes the contact in water polo.  He has played for the Rose Bowl club in different age groups.  The last one was the Rose Bowl 14 and under water polo club.

      Getting to Muir and the Big Moment in the CIF Championship Game

      Allison grew up in Atlanta, and Luc’s father is from Albany, Georgia. They moved to San Francisco in 2000, then to LA, and then to Pasadena when Luc was in Kindergarten. Luc went to a local private school for grades K-2, then to McKinley from 3rd to 8th.  His Dad discovered that it was the most diverse school in the district. Luc liked the K-8 model at McKinley going from elementary through middle school.  He was in 8th grade at McKinley when he went on a tour of Muir. He liked the ability to choose from the 3 Muir Academies for different curricular offerings. Allison said, “when we got to McKinley I got involved with the African-American Parent Council (AAPC) and that’s how I got to know Muir Principal, Dr. Gray.” Luc couldn’t decide which High School he wanted to attend, but Dr. Gray definitely sold him.”  Luc also likes that you can take Pasadena City College (PCC) classes on campus so you can add college credits while in high school. He chose the Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, saying “I like that we learn how to invest in stocks. Right not we are learning how to work the stock market in Ms. Ross’ class.  That’s pretty cool.  There’s a website called The Stock Market Game.  We start off with a $100,00, and we invest a certain amount every week.  At the end of that class’s week, we invest that money.”

      Coach Issa said “I had met him [Luc] very briefly on the pool deck one day.  He had come for a tour of Muir. They walked in, and I found out he played at the Rose Bowl, then I got the email [from them] that was like ‘do you do summer training?’  I was like Oh My God, they’re here!  It’s amazing, that’s wonderful!”  She told the history of Muir water polo, “this is now in its 5th year of bringing aquatics back at Muir and the first year of having a varsity boys’ water polo since about the year 2000. Luc came at a really exciting time, at a period of growth, and found his niche on our team.  He has helped his teammates grow immensely and scored that winning shot in CIF.”

      “All of that was really great and really exciting. We became official this year, and we did really well.   It’s just been awesome how much support has grown and how much support we’ve gotten. We went from having a few parents at games to the school community interested in water polo, which is really awesome.”  Allison said how familial this water polo team was. “These boys are so close and so supportive of each other. I think Coach Issa’s dealing with a group of really amazing boys, but you can’t say enough about Coach Issa’s guidance.  She taught them to create an atmosphere where they really deeply celebrate each other, and where they play selflessly, which is why they did so well.  She transformed them as a team. At beginning of the first season game, people didn’t even totally understand how to play water polo. There was one guy, super nice, who kept making friends with the opposing team. By the end of the season they were doing no look passes, not even thinking, just instinctively four teammates getting done what needed to get done.” Coach Issa agreed with Allison that there was one player (Ewan Lamond)  who sacrificed himself, “he pulled him (an opposing player) back, which caused an ejection. He knew that the kid was too far away from the goal for it to be a penalty shot. Then everybody (Muir’s defense) just crashed on the goal. One of our players hit the ball that probably got it an angle where Gilbert Roberts our goalie was able to block it. He blocked it down.  It was great teamwork. It was a big moment where something clicked and they knew what they needed to do, and they just did it. For most of these boys this is their second season playing water polo. It was awesome.”

      The Olympic Development Program (ODP)

      Luc related that ODP is a USA Water Polo program. USA Water Polo separates the country into zones. Our zone is a group of about 200 boys. USA Water Polo organizes it, and we swim, pass, and play in team scrimmages.  “Scrimmages is where you have to show off all your skills,” Luc said.

      The program leaders “pick ODP evaluations and then 60 of them go into the next evaluations.” Then after evaluations twenty-six boys out of the 60 get picked.  That makes the top 26 in your zone. He (Luc) is one of those, one of the top 26 in our zone. He is excited to get to go to San Antonio, Texas March 16-18 and play water polo against swimmers from other zones from all over the country.  Luc said [that although there are lots of zones] the California area especially near Newport, or Orange County, is the center of water polo, along with Europe.

      The Uniqueness of Muir

      Coach Issa said that the Orange County area has always had really strong teams: “When you look at the history of Muir’s teams back in the 60’s and 70’s, they didn’t have so many CIF divisions because not that many schools had water polo.  Muir always lost in the CIF playoffs to a Newport team or a Huntington Beach or a Corona del Mar, one of those schools.” She was proud that the Muir way still is to take whoever comes through the door, to make them feel like family, and to teach them: “I know that was a value that Coach Culbertson really lived by, and his son too. We’re just trying to keep that going, and it shows in who our team is made up of. We have the most diverse team of any water polo team I have seen.  There’s a lot of Latino teams now because water polo has picked up everywhere and there’s a heavy Latino population, but our team is really mixed. On our varsity team, we have 4 Latino players, 5 Black (includes 2 mixed) players and 3 white players.” It’s the most diverse she has seen at any tournament, any local game. It’s really cool, and I think that’s unique to here.  That’s a different scenario than the kids at Corona del Mar or Newport High School.   Just demographically and  socioeconomically, we are a really diverse area and team.  So you have all of those factors.  Allison said “That’s probably part of what creates the familial feeling on the team, such a diversity of people.  I always feel like a diverse group seems closer to me.”

      Looking to Next Year and Beyond

      Luc said summer is when the Junior Olympics for club water polo occurs. This summer it will be in Orange County.  His Rose Bowl Aquatics Center club will be playing in it. It will be for 4 days, with 3 games a day, depending on how many you win.  Luc said in the summer “I do junior lifeguard. It’s in the Pacific Palisades.” It’s a 4 week lifeguard training camp.  Allison said it’s through the Los Angeles Fire Department.  Mom said, “That’s his happy time.”

      Luc predicted that “next year we’ll still be a steady team even though we’re losing a few seniors–our goalie, our center defender, a player who plays on the right side with me, and our captain Brian.  We’ll have to work a little harder than we would have to work if we have them, but I think we’ll still do pretty well.  Like we’re losing our seniors, other high schools are also losing their seniors.  It evens out, I think.” Coach Issa added “We’ll be changing divisions, and we will find that out in the summer where they place us.”

      Coach Issa said “Last year, in Division VI, both Hemet and Muir were blowing the teams out. They’re [Hemet] definitely moving up. This was one of those weird years, once in a blue moon, where a team is in the division because that’s what the rules say, but they are playing at a higher level, which is good.  We have a tough league.  None of these boys are going into this thinking it’s gonna be easy. That’s always helpful from a coaching perspective.” Luc agreed, “We do have a tough league.”  Allison agreed, saying “It’s good conditioning for when they get to CIF.”

      Luc would like to play in college. He said there will be scouts at the ODP, at CIF and at the Junior Olympics, with most likely more at CIF and the club scene. Coach Issa agreed that scouts are very familiar with the club scene. It seems the sky is the limit for Luc!  Or maybe the ocean?


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