New video, exclusive to NBC Bay Area, shows the incident that landed an East Bay high school water polo player in criminal court, accused of attacking another player during a match.
A player from Lafayette's Acalanes High School was accused of grabbing another player from San Jose's Bellarmine High School and pulling him down in the water while kneeing him in the face during a match in December of 2015.
The victim's parents have been in contact with NBC Bay Area, and while they didn't want to talk on camera, they did want to set the record straight. A family friend spoke to us on their behalf.
U.S. & World
“Play hard, play tough, don't play dirty. Respect your opponent. Without your opponent you don't have a match.” That is the message longtime coach, chiropractor, and sports medicine teacher Tony Payan hopes others learn from a disturbing high school water polo incident that left the son of a family friend seriously injured. It was an incident caught on camera by the victim's father.
“Intent to injure another athlete,” Payan said. “That's what it showed.”
This video clip led to an Acalanes High School student facing criminal assault charges. Payan described to NBC Bay Area how he and the victim's family view it.
“He intentionally brings the athlete's head down toward his knee and quickly drives his knee up toward his face,” Payan said.
The maneuver left the victim -- a 15-year-old from Bellarmine High school -- with a broken nose that required surgery.
“That was one of the most calculated, callous, skillful acts intended to injure another athlete that I've seen,” Payan said.
But that is not the impression many in the water polo community have been left with. A letter emailed to thousands of water polo families characterized the player's actions as inadvertent and called the charges "outrageous.” While the USA Water Polo Association later clarified they did not authorize the email, many wrote letters to the district attorney urging him not to prosecute the boy.
“He received consequences for what he did, absolutely,” Acalanes High School District's Associate Superintendent Amy McNamara said. She was surprised the incident led to criminal charges. “These things happen as we deal with adolescents and we deal with it at a school level.”
McNamara said schools know how to handle situations like this and that the boy was suspended from school and banned from playing a number of games.
“These are teenagers,” McNamara said. “They don't always make the best decision. That's why they're teenagers and we love them and work with them and we want to help all of them develop good conduct and good sportsmanship. That's our goal.”
“If someone would have taken that maneuver outside the pool and performed it in the quad, so to speak, they probably would have been taken away in handcuffs,” Payan said.
Payan believes the boy crossed the line and says the consequences are justified.
“I applaud the DA [district attorney] for looking at that film and saying, ‘Hey, we can't accept this in society. We certainly shouldn't be accepting it in high school sports,’” Payan said.
He hopes players, coaches and parents can learn from this case and become better for it.
“Having him shoulder the responsibility, the consequences of his actions may be a good thing for him, and more importantly, it might be a great thing for high school water polo,” he said.
The Acalanes water polo player was in court Friday to hear his punishment. Results of the proceedings are kept confidential since they took place in a juvenile court. Attempts to reach the Acalanes student's attorney were unsuccessful.
The victim's father tells NBC Bay Area that the family is looking forward to putting the incident behind them.