BRIDGEPORT, Pa. — “Think of it as, uh, one part basketball, one part swimming… and one part wrestling.” – Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Vox Sola“.
Fans of water polo might be surprised that it is among only a few modern/non-fictitious sports mentioned in the litany of Star Trek movies and television shows.
In the series, “Star Trek: Enterprise” actor Scott Bakula portrays Captain Jonathan Archer. The character, who calls water polo “the best sport in the world” in one episode, is depicted as avidly following the seasonal progress of the men’s college game. A former athlete of the sport, it is detailed that he competed in the 2134 North American Water Polo Regional against Princeton University and helped claim a last-minute victory in that match. The show also points out that he also participated in the 2134 finals. He is depicted as a particular fan of Stanford, favoring them in the 2151 finals over the University of Texas in the episode “Vox Sola“.
In the show, the character is sent irregular information about current scores through official channels, being updated by both Starfleet Command and their allies, the Vulcan High Command. Sometimes, he receives recordings of entire matches.
Similar to the fans of today’s game, he attemptes to improve awareness of the sport with his crew members and indocrinate the crew with an appreciation of the game’s strategies.
The character’s main tangible connection to the sport was a water polo ball kept in his quarters aboard Enterprise. He would often throw it against the walls of his quarters when trying to think through a problem. He also used it on occasion as a minor test of his crew’s reflexes, unexpectedly throwing it at them in his quarters.
Further, the character is repeatedly shown with a bag emblazoned with “2134 North American Water Polo Regionals”. The game against Princeton is shown to have particular relevance to his leadership style, as it had taught him the value of believing he would succeed, even when defeat seemed the more likely outcome.
It is never clearly stated during the show that he competed for Stanford, although the series states he never left the San Francisco area prior to going into space.
The first clear reference to Archer’s enthusiasm for the game of water polo is in the episode “Strange New World“, when Archer surprises a crew member by throwing a water polo ball at them. As his armory officer catches the ball, Archer notes that the crew member “would’ve made a good two-meter man.”
The fact that the University of Texas is included in the finals suggests an expansion of interest in the sport beyond the current reality as the Longhorns are not currently a varsity member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (although the team is a collegiate club member of the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA).
According to Bakula’s explanation of why water polo is included in the show, Archer’s interest in water polo was something added by the writers, specifically producer Rick Berman, whose son played in the sport. Bakula, who also played polo while growing up, had also pushed the writers for giving Archer a second sport of interest, lacrosse, which did not come to fruition.
At the conclusion of the series, Berman took Archer’s water polo ball, as a memento.
The CWPA has another connection to Star Trek as renowned water polo coach and former Yale University coach Richard Corso worked as water polo consultant on the episode “Vox Sola“.
Born and raised in Queens, NY, Corso earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education at Southern Connecticut State University and a master degree in kinesiology from California State University-Northridge.
At 21, while finishing his undergraduate degree at Southern Connecticut, Corso could not pass up the offer to become head coach of Yale’s men’s water polo team. He went on to positions as head coach for USA Men’s Water Polo Team and Women’s Water Polo Team at the University of California. He was named United States Olympic Coach of the Year in 1996 and inducted into the United States Water Polo Hall of Fame that year.