It's no surprise that a Pacific Coast League water polo showdown between Corona del Mar (Calif.) and Irvine (Calif.) High Schools would get plenty of attention. After all, both schools are perennial challengers for the league title and both the Sea Kings and Vaqueros take water polo very seriously. Yet last week the teams' face-off was thrust into the spotlight because of a dangerous incident during the game, not the 8-7 Corona del Mar victory.
According to the Orange County Register, Irvine defender Zack Kamai, one of the Vaqueros' stars, was forced to leave the game late in the third quarter with Irvine nursing a four-goal lead, after he floated to the surface with a serious throat injury. Kamai claimed that he had been choked by a Corona del Mar player, and the video you see above shows a Sea Kings player holding Kamai under the water during a tense sequence in front of the Irving goal.
With Kamai visibly struggling when he resurfaced -- and with play ongoing, because no foul was called while Kamai was held under -- the father of the Vaqueros defender jumped into the water to pull his son safely to the side of the pool. Other players from both teams also helped the departing player, who was then treated by paramedics. Kamai sat out the rest of the game with the injury, but was able to recover sufficiently to speak to the Register afterwards.
"I came in the set, I was pushing him [the CdM player] out, he took his hand and grabbed me around the throat and started squeezing and the next thing I knew I was getting pulled to the wall.
"All I was caring about was trying to breathe."
Luckily, Kamai is a former lifeguard, and he used his past experience to help make it to the side of the pool. Still, that didn't help salve the wound he felt from his team's loss.
"They pulled me out of the game at the third quarter, we were (up) 7-3 and I come back in and it's 8-7," Kamai told the Register. "I'm a key player and they took me out. It not (only) just throws me out of the game, it throws our players out of sync, worrying not just about the game, but about me too."
His coach agreed that losing Kamai was the turning point in the game.
"They took out one of my best players, and we tried to hold them off as long as we could until they came back," Irvine coach Ray Wong told the Register. "But that kind of deflated us a little, it killed the momentum that we had."
After the game, Corona del Mar investigated the possibility of taking internal disciplinary action against any players involved, but later decided against doing so. Corona del Mar athletic director Don Grable has met with the team's coach, and both agreed that any intentional foul play going forward would be punished.
Here's what Corona del Mar coach Barry O'Dea told the Register:
"I didn't even see what happened, I wasn't watching that part," O'Dea said. "I think they had just scored a goal, I was facing the bench, next thing you know I saw them blowing the whistle.
"To be honest with you, I didn't know why he was blowing the whistle until I saw Zack's dad jump in the water. No one on our bench knew what was going on. I didn't see the play, so I don't really know what happened.
"I don't teach that, I don't coach that, that's not our style. I'm pretty sure if you ask my guys, they will tell you all sorts of things are going on in the water. It's water polo. Again, I don't know if that happened (Kamai's account)."
- Corona del Mar