8 years in, water polo tradition lives on

$5,655 raised for boys program since 2014

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By James Kay

Sports Editor

From the class of 1977 to the recent graduates of 2015, generations of OPRF water polo players have congregated in the east pool over the last eight years to participate in the Paul Eckenroad Memorial Alumni Game.

It serves as the ultimate high school reunion where the older participants can reminisce about their time with Eckenroad (a former OPRF swimmer and water polo player) while the younger alumni get to reconnect with their erstwhile teammates.  

 "I think it's great," said Isaac Rothenbaum, one of the organizers of the event. "We aren't a close group of people in terms of being OPRF alumni, but the water polo community is pretty tight. There is a lot of discussion about [water polo], and I think it helps get people out who haven't played in a while."

The OPRF alumni game started back in the 1980s but didn't occur every year. It wasn't until Eckenroad died of heart complications in 2011 when the event was renamed after him and turned into an annual affair. He was a member of the 1977 OPRF graduation class and was known for his elite athleticism. His best friend, Charlie Groen, swam with Eckenroad since the two were 7 and 8 years old. Groen attends the alumni game to honor his fallen friend.

"Paul was always cracking jokes and could light up a room," said Groen, who graduated from OPRF in 1978. "I miss him, and I wish he could come back and see the group."

Outside of honoring Eckenroad, the event is used to raise money for OPRF's boys water polo team. Rothenbaum said no one has to pay, but it is preferred that anyone who participates makes a $20 donation. Since 2014, the event has generated $5,655 with attendees contributing more than $20 each most years.

 In terms of the game itself, warmups start at 11 a.m. but most participants arrive closer to game time at 11:30.

"There are times when it's [11:15 a.m.] and six people are in the pool," said Rothenbaum. "We start to wonder if everyone is going to come, but then everyone arrives, and we have more than enough. It is always a nail-biter though."

The teams are divided by year of graduation (evens versus odds). In the 2019 game, Rothenbaum introduced every participant by the graduating class while the players were lined up on the side of the pool. Teams were cheered on by an audience of 20-30 people in the second-floor balcony above the pool.

After the odds won the game, 15-10, the group made its way to O'Sullivan's Public House on Madison Street. In the back room of the bar, tables were put together and everyone shared beer and a late lunch. At this point, everyone got the chance to catch up and talk with different generations of OPRF water polo players.

"The thing I find most inspirational is seeing the generations above us coming out and playing with us," said Eric Hallman, class of 2010. "It's really a nice reminder that it's a tradition that is alive within our community for decades."

The event occurs on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (Rothenbaum has the date earmarked with the school). For OPRF alumni who are interested in a casual game of water polo and have a swimsuit and $20, there is a place for you in the pool.

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