Kids have opportunities to play a wide range of sports by the time they are 6 years old.

Chris Perret, executive director of the Bend Waves, wants those sports to include water polo.

“Our whole goal is to increase the length of time that kids can play the game,” Perret said Saturday at Juniper Swim & Fitness Center, where the Waves hosted their first Learn-to-Play splashball clinic. “The history in Central Oregon has been that kids learn the game by and large in their freshman or sophomore year of high school, so they only have three to four years to really learn the game.”

The clinic, an introduction to water polo for ages 6 to 14, took place during the second annual Bend Shootout — a 16-team girls and boys 18U club tournament.

Perret said splashball is a similar game to water polo, the biggest difference being no contact. Splashball is also played with a smaller, softer ball.

Twenty-five kids from Bend, Madras and Newberg participated in the inaugural clinic, spending the morning learning fundamentals in swimming and passing and then playing fun games like sharks and minnows in the afternoon.

“Water polo is unique in a sense that you’re having to swim, you’ve got water splashing in your face, you’ve got someone touching you and you have to know what’s going on around you,” Perret said. “It’s really, really hard for these guys to figure that stuff out.”

Perret noted that the Bend Park & Recreation District has offered a novice water polo workshop at Juniper for more than 10 years. He added, though, that the program is offered only twice a year.

“Bend parks and rec has been a great partner. However, we have not had a continuum,” Perret said. “They get exposed for a week or two and then there’s nothing for a year.”

The Bend Waves started their splashball program in mid-February. The group meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at Juniper from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. For more information, visit www.bendwaves.com.

“Now, we have kids starting at (age) 6. Imagine how much experience they’re going to have,” Perret said. “If we can touch 100 kids a year, then what’s going to happen when we get into the high school years? We’ll have really solid groups of 15 or more players that have had a lot of years and really love the game.”

Zach Henneous, a Bend 14-year-old, started with splashball at the end of February and now competes on the Waves 14U team.

“I didn’t think I would like it but I tried it and it’s amazing,” said Henneous, who participated in Saturday’s clinic. “You’re always swimming. You’re always moving and passing. It’s a crazy sport. It’s super fun. You’re putting everything you have and it’s super physical and you won’t get in trouble for it.”

Perret said participation in water polo is already growing organically. With the addition of splashball, the Waves have 100 kids in their program, which is twice as many as two years ago. The Waves have also added 12U teams to go with their 14U, 16U and 18U programs. Perret would like to add a competitive 10U squad.

According to Perret, a combined 115 girls and boys participated in water polo last fall across the three Bend public high schools, up from fewer than 60 two years ago.

Perret said there was so much interest in the Bend Shootout that he had to turn away teams.

The Waves had four entries in the field, two girls teams and two boys teams. Squads from Gresham, Beaverton, Eugene, Parkrose and Newberg also participated.

The round-robin tournament concludes Sunday at Juniper.

­­— Reporter: 541-383-0307, dwiley@bendbulletin.com

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