Santa Clarita resident Tony Brown has a knack for starting programs.
In 1986, he helped create the swimming team at Saint Francis High School in Crescenta Valley. A year later, he launched the school’s water polo team.
Brown went on to play water polo at Loyola Marymount in the late 1990s and has remained involved with the game.
In May of last year, Brown relaunched the Santa Clarita Valley Masters water polo program after a nearly three-year hiatus.
Brown, along with men and women ranging from their 20s to their early 60s, meet once a week at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center for exhibition games.
“When I moved to Santa Clarita in 2013, I realized there weren’t any types of water polo programs out here,” Brown said. “It’s one of those sports where you can play it your entire life. I wanted to find a way to get people involved with the game because I love it so much and there are such nice facilities out here.”
Brown began canvassing for people to join the games using mobile apps like “Nextdoor” and flyers throughout the aquatic center. He even reigned in a player who was serving him at Mimi’s Cafe, explaining to Brown how he used to play in Europe.
“The biggest thing is that we’re playing for fun, so we encourage people to come out and not be intimidated if they’re newbies to the sport,” Brown said. “The people who we have at the games are so welcoming and come from all walks of life.”
On a good week, Brown gets 16 players to attend. From there, they break out into a full court six-on-six game, not including goalies, with each team carrying a substitute. During the summer, getting 16 players for a full game isn’t usually a problem. During the fall and winter, the numbers tend to fluctuate.
“We really need just about 1-2 more players to be able to play a full-court game on a consistent basis and then, hopefully, we can add more games,” Brown said. “I feel like there are definitely people around town who may have had to go to like Crespi or (Bishop) Alemany to play water polo in high school but are still looking for ways to stay with the game.”
The end goal for Brown is to send teams to Masters tournaments throughout the country and eventually the Masters Nationals. He has enough players in his current group to play in tournaments for certain age groups but is seeking more depth.
Brown’s hoping to enter tournaments by the end of this year.
“We have a pretty solid core in our 40-plus age group,” Brown said, “But we’re definitely looking for some people in the 20-25 age group to round us out.”
The games are at 7 p.m. on Thursdays at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center and all that’s required to join a game is $5. Pete Leporchio, who coaches water polo at LA Valley College and initially started the Masters program in Santa Clarita before it disbanded three years ago, serves as a mentor and sometimes referee at the games.
Brown, who also works as the CEO of the Heart of Los Angeles charity in Downtown LA, encourages people who have swimming backgrounds to come join the games, even if they’ve never played water polo.
“I had a couple of my swimming friends come out and play with us when we first started up,” Brown said. “Some of them couldn’t hang, but most of them caught the bug and are back every week. We’re competitive, but it really is all about having fun first.”