Home to the country’s only high school underwater hockey team, Roger Bacon High School is teaching students to pursue their passions, even when they derive from the most unexpected sources. Paul Wittekind, social studies department chair and the team’s head coach since 1997, knows even the name is instinctively confusing to those unaware of the sport’s existence.
“There’s a certain quirkiness to it,” says Wittekind. “People sometimes roll their eyes at the store when they see my underwater hockey shirt on and ask, ‘Is that a real sport?’ but it comes with the territory.”
Games begin as six players per team race to the center of the pool to gain possession of a three-pound lead puck before scoring in their opponent’s goal. Athletes wear masks, snorkels, fins and are equipped with a wooden or plastic stick with a banana curve that push the puck in front of them. Players are underwater for 30 seconds on average, ultimately coming to the surface to temporarily watch play unfold at the bottom of the pool through their snorkels, says Wittekind.
His teams, usually co-ed, are accustomed to success at a high level. Roger Bacon has won their division at nationals – this year taking place in Orlando, Florida – four separate years, playing an assortment of college and adult teams. Roger Bacon students have even been chosen to represent Team USA at the youth level, as well as Wittekind himself from a coaching perspective.
“I love watching kids grow up,” remarks Wittekind. “It’s rewarding to see kids grow up, graduate, go to their weddings and see them start families to have kids of their own. We, as a catholic institution, want to educate the mind and body of our students.”