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QUAC water polo team’s local, national fame

Like many members of the Queer Utah Aquatic Club, Patrick Hayes has had a life-long interest in swimming, having taken up the sport as a child with his three brothers in Southern California.

“Our parents started us on swimming lessons so we wouldn’t drown when we went to the beach. My mother saw that it tired us out, so we were easy to manage,” laughed Hayes. “She saw the benefits of it and we all shared some promise in it, and we liked it as well.”

Hayes said that he and his brothers naturally gravitated toward water polo when they entered high school, thanks to a childhood spent in the water.

“It was natural for us since we were all swimmers,” he said. “When water polo was introduced in our lives, we followed through.”

Hayes continued the sport throughout college, as a member of the University of Utah’s water polo team (“We really just had a team to keep water polo as a Division 1 sport, because teams were kind of falling away,” he explained.). Then after several years of coaching a number of local high school teams, Hayes said that QUAC asked him to start up its water polo team in 2003 in cooperation with coach Andrew Hunt.

“We built the team up to 15 or 16 players and it’s gone from there,” he said.

QUAC’s water polo team has gone to some impressive places as well. At first, said Hayes, a number of interested swimmers left after the first few practices, having not realized “how physical” the sport would be. But after QUAC put out a call for players to Utah’s water polo community at-large, Hayes said that the team soon came together. And as the years went on, experienced players from college water polo teams like the University of Utah’s also joined, adding to the team’s strength and speed.

Soon enough, this diverse team was winning not only international competitions, but the attention of water polo enthusiasts around the world. In 2007, the team took first place at the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics championship in Paris and took a silver medal home from Chicago’s Gay Games in 2006, where they lost to West Hollywood’s team — the team that has been their strongest rival since. Nonetheless, QUAC took home the gold at the Gay Games VIII in Cologne, Germany last year.

“We’re pretty much considered a favorite when we show up,” said Hayes.

While QUAC accepts members of all sexual orientations and gender identities, the “queer” in its name has often lead people to think that it’s a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-only swimming organization. Hayes, who identifies as straight, said this is not the case.

“When we first started, the only straight people were myself and Andrew,” he said. “They [the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender players] were more worried about me accepting them. They didn’t want to impose on me, which I thought was funny because I was fine [with them].”

Today, Hayes said that the water polo team is “about one-third gay” and includes men and women.

While water polo is an intense sport, as the team’s first players soon found out, this does not mean that only experienced players need apply. The team holds clinics in autumn, said Hayes, “to introduce new players to bring them in slowly.” These clinics teach participants everything from how to pick up the ball and shoot it, to how to successfully maneuver around other players.

“If you’re not that good of a swimmer, it can be difficult because it’s a difficult sport,” he said. “So if you’re not used to that it can be very intimidating.”

At the same time, however, Hayes noted that the water polo team’s multiple wins have been forcing QUAC to think about how to remain inclusive without disappointing people who are interested in competing.

“It’s a continuing process,” he said. “QUAC’s mission is to be inclusive. It’s not really about being competitive or winning, but they do get a lot of joy [from winning], and there’s a lot of pride in water polo championship. But [winning] is not QUAC’s mission, it’s more of a side benefit.”

And Hayes and his team both hope to take pride in more games throughout 2011 and 2012, including the IGLA Championships in Hawaii this summer. However, Hayes also said he and the team are proud of the growing attention they’ve been receiving from Utah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. During a 2010 demonstration at Temple Square held to protest anti-gay remarks made by LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer, Hayes said that several protesters recognized him and other members of the team.

“I had several people come up to me and tell me that they knew we’d won the Gay Games and how excited they were,” he said. “That happens more and more on a continuing basis. We’re becoming very recognizable.”

For more information about the water polo team visit quacquac.org.

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