Water Polo

Water Polo was played at Princeton before packed galleries from 1907 to 1930. It was a rugged game, with no holds barred (no one, except those involved, ever knew what went on under water), but there were those who loved it. Archibald MacLeish, the poet, played right forward on the Yale team that suffered its only loss to Princeton in 1914.

Ably coached by Frank Sullivan, Princeton teams won championships in the water polo league of the Intercollegiate Swimming Association in ten of the twenty-three seasons in which they participated: 1912 through 1917; 1919; 1921 through 1923. Princeton did not lose a single game in any of these years. The 1912 and 1913 teams added to their laurels by post-season victories over the University of Illinois, intercollegiate champions of the West. The 1916 team was exceptionally strong defensively: it permitted its opponents only 12 points -- against its own 335 -- during the entire season. The 1917 team was outstanding on offense, scoring a total of 370 points, a league record. Herbert W. Warden, Jr. '18 led in scoring with 230 points in 1916, and 210 in 1917. Some other outstanding players were Goulding K. Wight '13, Robert L. Nourse, Jr. '17, Robert C. Tait '22, Fred M. Phillips '23, and Henry M. Matalene, Jr. '26.

In February 1930, the Faculty Committee on Athletics announced that 19 of the 23 members of the varsity squad and 14 of the 17 members of the freshman squad were suffering from ear injuries or nose and throat infections and that water polo would be discontinued for the rest of the season. Later on recommendation of the medical staff, the committee announced the abolition of the sport at Princeton. Since then, water polo has been revived informally several times under revised rules that have sought to make the game less hazardous.


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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