Alan Cima has been the head coach of the UC Santa Cruz men’s water polo team and the co-head coach of the women’s team for the past nine years.
Despite his laid-back demeanor, a more careful look makes clear the strain Cima has endured, both personally and professionally, in the face of a dying UCSC water polo program. Though visibly agitated as he discussed OPERS management, Cima has worked hard to remain even-tempered and calm as he watches the program he loves fade away.
In his office, lined with the All-American certificates of past water polo players, Cima sat down with City on a Hill Press to discuss the negative consequences facing water polo and other UCSC athletics due to recent budget cuts.
City on a Hill Press: The pool has been in relatively bad condition all season, ending with its current closure. How has that affected the water polo teams?
Alan Cima: The pool deck is being rebuilt and the pool is being resurfaced, [but] that doesn’t really affect us that badly. Originally, the closing of the pool was supposed to happen earlier, so we couldn’t schedule any home games during that time.
And then with the program being dropped, we had no program during the normal scheduling season. We had to try and fit games into the schedules that all the other teams already had. Most people were more open to playing a second game only if we traveled to their home pool. Usually we have more teams that want to come here, but because of the scheduling timing it wasn’t true this year.
CHP: How does the current water polo program compare to the one you saw when you first started at UCSC nine years ago?
AC: Well, the water polo program has gone through three or four coaches in two or three years. Overall, the program from then till now has better athletes, more fit and more disciplined practices and certainly more success.
CHP: It seems that in the last couple of years the water polo program has been in danger of getting cut. How have the current budget cuts been directly affecting the water polo teams and coaches at UCSC?
AC: In terms of last year’s budget cuts, that is when OPERS management decided that they needed to cut the water polo program, but then it was reinstated for one year, which is this season. Clearly the budget cuts are impacting the whole OPERS department and so it’s impacted water polo in sort of a major way, with them eventually deciding to drop it.
CHP: Do you think that the cutting of water polo was mainly a question of money?
AC: Realistically, the year I got here water polo hardly got any money from the university anyway, though it’s improved through the years. After the announcement of the dropping of the program last year we raised about $75,000. When the reinstatement for one season was announced, we asked the donors if they still wanted to continue to donate. We ended up giving back about $20,000 because, as one donor put it, “Who wants to donate to a funeral?” In 10 years as a varsity program water polo has raised more than $400,000 in donations.
CHP: Through what outlets does the water polo program get most of these donations?
AC: Supporters in general. Alumni, parents who are part of the unofficial parent group, people that have played against us in years past. It varies.”
CHP: What is the reason behind OPERS management effectively ending the program from here on out?
AC: They’ve switched their story from ‘cost-cutting’ to ‘lack of infrastructure,’ which has yet to be defined. The parent group offered to raise money — $25,000 per year — to give to the athletics department to help pay for infrastructure for all sports, but that was refused.
CHP: What has been the response from other water polo programs, players and coaches regarding the end of UCSC water polo?
AC: Water polo in California is pretty big, but outside the state not so much. All the other UCs were worried, such as Cal and UCLA, to name a few.
CHP: What does the future for the UCSC men’s and women’s water polo programs look like?
AC: At this point, it looks fairly negative because they’re dropping the program. It was a decision that was made with inaccurate information.
CHP: What would your argument be to get OPERS management to bring UCSC water polo back?
AC: Well I think that if they look at California and serving the students that are here and the students coming up through high school, I think they’ll discover that they should bring back water polo because it’s sort of part of the mission of the UC. That mission has traditionally been to provide education, leadership and athletic opportunities to students. There are several hundred students that are here that want to play and every year there are 20,000 students who graduate high school in California that want to play.