For Michelle Perry, youth sports are nothing new.
A Newport Hills resident and mother of two boys, ages 14 and 11, Perry has been on the athletic circuit for years with her sons in various sports.
When the two added water polo to the list, Perry was unsure what awaited them in the pool. But after watching them practice and play under the instruction of John Jacobson, she was quickly sold.
“He gave them immediate feedback and pointers,” she said. “Then threw them back in the water.”
After spending the past two years as the director and coach at Rain City Water Polo, Jacobson, a Mercer Island native who played water polo during his prep days, is also ready for a new challenge.
Northwest Water Polo Club is the name of the new club he is bringing to the Eastside, and one he hopes to expand in the coming years as the game continues to grow outside of Bellevue and Mercer Island, where it is most popular currently.
“It was awesome, a wonderful experience,” he said of his time with Rain City. “We grew a lot in the span of two and a half years.”
Jacobson took on the task of growing Rain City after coaching youth teams and serving as graduate assistant for California Lutheran University and playing at Whittier. The club began with around 40 youngsters two years ago and saw that number swell to nearly 150 last season.
That growth was due in large part to specialized programs for youngsters and Masters, including a team that made Nationals, something Jacobson said he hopes to duplicate at NWPC. Using water polo as a method of cross-training for various other sports was another attraction for prep athletes, and Jacobson said taking the enthusiasm for water polo to Issaquah, Sammamish and other areas around the Eastside is another key focus going forward.
“We had kids who did swim team and soccer, or lacrosse and football,” he said. “You get to apply those skills in a different setting.”
Evan Kaseguma, a former board member and coach at Rain City, said Jacobson’s passion for the game will be missed by his former club.
“He wants the best for all of his athletes,” said Kaseguma, who also coaches the Bellevue High School teams.
While his passion for the game and focus on his athletes was a keystone for Jacobson at Rain City, it was far from his only distinguishing quality.
Rain City saw one of its players earn national recognition in the pool when George French, a senior at Bellevue, was named to the regional Olympic Development squad.
But even with several of its high school players helping Bellevue to three consecutive state titles, Jacobson said the key to the success of was integrating players of all age and ability levels.
“We didn’t have a lot of programming centered towards younger kids,” he said. “When we got those started we saw a lot of growth.”
The club will offer teams for high school aged boys and girls, as well as a coed program for middle schoolers and athletes as young as eight years old.
Perry said for her sons, the enjoyment of learning a new sport and excelling under Jacobson’s coaching has been more than enough to keep them interested.
“If you can swim, you can play water polo,” she said. “They came so far in a year, it was phenomenal.”