Now that both the Live Oak swimming and water polo masters
programs have a place to call home, the programs have thrived.
Now that both the Live Oak swimming and water polo masters programs have a place to call home, the programs have thrived.

The Morgan Hill Masters swimming program was formed about 15 years ago by Tim Thornton and Olympic medalist Lynn Gautschi, while the El Toro Brewing Company Masters Water Polo Club was formed less than a year ago by brewery owner Geno Acevedo.

Masters swimmers and water polo players have to get up early in the morning to practice. The swim program meets Monday through Friday 5-7 a.m. The masters water polo group meets at a more reasonable time – on Saturday morning 9 to10:30 a.m. every time the Live Oak pool is available. Sometimes swim meets occupy the pool, and the group is not able to meet.

“We got a lot of older people in the masters program who would like to swim in the afternoon,” said Thornton, who normally takes Wednesdays off to recover. “Emotionally it is hard for some people. About half the people who swim with us go straight to work after. It is especially hard for the gals that have to put on makeup and fix their hair.”

Many triathletes also use the masters programs as a way to stay in shape.

Sue Robinson, who competed in the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii last winter, and Mary Jane Nichols are a couple triathtes who swim with the masters.

“That is the only reason I got back in the water,” said Thornton, a former triathlete. “I used to run quite a bit, and that is really my preference.”

There are a wide variety of local personalities that participate.

Morgan Hill Councilman Larry Car, who played for Live Oak and graduated in 1986, is one of the regular water polo competitors.

“It seems like he is relatively soft spoken,” Acevedo said. “But when he gets in the water, he gets kind of mean. He is a real good competitor.”

For Acevedo, playing water polo is a way to release pent up aggression.

“For an hour you can beat the heck out of someone doing all but coming to blows with them,” Acevedo said. “Then when you’re done, you can have a beer with them and laugh about it. It is a way to take out your aggressions that you would like to do in the real world.”

Many water polo players have an extra incentive, Acevedo said.

“Our group often gets together after practice at the brewery for a little beer social,” Acevedo said. “Pretty much every weekend. The beer is on me. The use fee of $5 at the pool is pretty much offset by the beer drank at the social at the brewery.”

Acevedo hopes to compete in a water polo tourney that is in Munich, Germany during the last week of Octoberfest.

For everyone

The term “masters” may be deceiving. Both the swimming and masters programs are willing to work with the individual to help him or her get better.

“It is usually for people who have played water polo in high school or college,” said Acevedo. “Although we have taken aquatic athletes who have never played water polo before and have turned them into water polo players.”

It is a great way to exercise.

“Some people want to just exercise,” Thornton said. “It is a great exercise that does not beat your body up like some other activities do.”

“It is mostly for recreation and fitness,” Acevedo added. “Although it is also for people who like to be competitive. We enter tournaments to see how we do against other masters teams.”

After the water polo masters program in Santa Cruz at the Simpkins Center closed, Acevedo said he got a lot of people from Santa Cruz and Watsonville coming over. There are also people who come from Salinas, Hollister, Gilroy and San Jose.

“Probably half the people come from out the area to play,” Acevedo said. “On any given weekend, we usually have enough to play a full scrimmage. But sometimes there are no substitutes, so you get more of a workout than you thought you would.”

Acevedo said when he first jumped in he was wondering if he had the hand/eye coordinating just to catch the ball. But he said it came back quickly.

“A lot of the guys that come out have played water polo but haven’t played in 20 years,” Acevedo said. “They got these skilled that are buried inside them that they forgot they have. They’re dormant skills. As you play each week, a new skill gets revived. The rules are different, but the fundamentals are the same.”

“There is room for pretty much anybody,” Thornton added. “I get people that tell me they don’t want to be embarrassed because they are out of shape or don’t have good skills. Just come on down. We’ll help you out the first couple times and give you a few tips.”

The swim program is currently without a “coach,” which has made improvement a collaborative effort.

“We pretty much just help each other,” Thornton said. “We always kind of keep an eye out for each other. When we do our workouts, there are two or three different groups that work together depending on what interval they are swimming on. Some go a little faster, and some go a little slower. We are always competing with each other on various parts of the workout. Everybody learns where everybody’s soft spots are.”

More younger people are starting to join the Morgan Hill masters clubs.

“We have some people who have been there for a long time,” Thornton said. “But we are also getting a lot of new people now. That is really exciting. Some of the new ones are a little younger, which is good because they bring more enthusiasm.”

It is not required to stay the whole two hours for practice. Many people have to leave early for work.

“It is a good program because we meet the needs of everyone,” Thornton said. “We got some people who only come down and swim part of the time because of an early commitment. We have some that come early and leave early. And then there are the hard liners who come early and stay late.”

Finding room

The Morgan Hill Masters Swim Club, like many other groups, was ousted from practice at Live Oak when the renovation was going on. When the new Live Oak pool opened, the Morgan Hill Masters was taken under the wing of the Morgan Hill Makos to help with fees and administration.

“When Live Oak closed its pool to rebuild, a lot of the masters swimmers went other places,” Thornton said. “When Live Oak opened back up, we didn’t have enough people to cover the pool fees. The MH swim club had a few people. They already had the whole mechanical setup.”

Not much changed under the new leadership, Thornton said.

“We still use the same facilities. We still train at the same time and the cost is about the same,” Thornton said.

It is still tough for the masters programs to find open pool time.

“We are starting to have to compete for time especially with the boys and girls swim seasons starts,” Thornton said. “Now we got two swim clubs, a masters swim and water polo team and boys and girls JV and varsity teams competing for time along with the PE classes during the day.”

“People in the community wonder why we are even thinking about building another pool when we have one brand new one.” Thornton added. “But that pool goes from 5 in the morning to about 9 in the night.”


The swim season is divided into three different parts – the short course (25 yards), long course (25 meters or 50 meters) and open water. Each fall, six or seven local swimmers get together to swim in the ocean or in another large body of water.

The Alcatraz swim of about 900 swimmers is one of the more popular open-water races. Peter Kapetanic is one of the Morgan Hill athletes who competes in the Alcatraz swim.

As an avid photographer, Kapetanic usually takes a camera along with him and takes pictures during the actual swim.

Acevedo, 41, started the water polo program with a list that he developed from his contacts at El Toro Brewery. The program gradually grew by word of mouth.

“Masters water polo, I’ve noticed, is really starting to grow as one of the masters sports especially as a year-around sport,” Acevedo said. “We are building the program up in anticipation for the aquatic center opening up.”

Acevedo played polo for CAL in college, although he didn’t graduate from there.

“Since I was swimming, I was looking to play water polo,” Acevedo said. “I heard there were groups playing. It took me a while to find them. I started discovering other old guys playing, so I started travelling.”

Many times, Acevedo and others from the local athletes will compete with other water polo masters clubs in the area. Pleasonton, one of the oldest clubs in the area, is one of the clubs Acevedo competes with a lot.

“There are not as many places to swim close by that have swim meets for masters as there are water polo tournaments,” Acevedo said. “We have scrimmages ever week which is like having a mock swim meet. We plan on scrimmaging other local clubs. We have been in contact with them to set up just that thing. We will also compete in the Masters Nationals tournament in various age brackets.”

Not even a broken thumb could stop him from playing in the Nationals last June in Southern California, although he said he didn’t know at the time it was broken.

“Plus I couldn’t have really pulled out of it because it was down in Irvine, and the kids wanted to go to Disneyland,” Acevedo said.

Acevedo is on of the many Morgan Hill athletes who compete in both masters water polo and swimming.

“It keeps you fit enough to swim a whole polo match,” Acevedo said. “It is a little bit different sort of athletics. We got some guys that come out once a week and seem to be able to hang pretty well.”

Both programs require participants to have a USA Water Polo or Swimming membership for insurance purposes.

If a person wants to join, he or she can just stop by during practices. The first one is normally free, but after that a Pacific Master Swim membership must be obtained. There is also a $5 per pool session for both water polo and swimming. Or it it $45 a dollars a month for swimming. Details: Tim Thornton at 779-9470 or Geno Acevedo at 778-2739 or at [email protected].

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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