Cliff Hooper admits he was no water polo genius when he took over
as head coach at Corona del Mar High in 1966, but CIF Southern Section
record books might indicate otherwise.
"I still don't understand everything (about water polo), but I was
involved," said Hooper, CdM's head coach for 10 years, a span which
included three CIF championships and six CIF Players of the Year.
"I still don't know all the moves and techniques in the water, but I
do understand how the game works," added Hooper, whose athletic
background included mostly football, but stumbled upon the CdM water polo
position when Ted Newland left for UC Irvine in 1965.
"I was (Newland's) gun bearer. I really didn't have much to do with
that (first CIF title for CdM in '65). I was just there when (Newland)
was there in the mornings."
Hooper, an art teacher at CdM for 25 years who retired from the
Newport-Mesa School District in 1989, never intended to become a water
But Hooper had experience coaching swimming and one year of water polo
"unsuccessfully" at Glendale, and when CdM hired him, they needed an
assistant to be poolside with Newland.
"I got out of Glendale and the smog and came to Newport Beach. It was
like dying and going to heaven," Hooper said. "When Newland left, they
pushed me in (as head coach) and it took off. The program already had
momentum. I just had to keep throwing the marbles out and keep pushing
In Hooper's reign, Pat McClellan (1966), Jerry Eubank ('68), Bruce
Black ('69), Garth Bergeson ('70), Bruce Krumpholz ('72) and Mark Watson
('74) were CIF Players of the Year for Corona del Mar, while the Sea
Kings captured section titles in 1966, '69 and '74.
"I loved Newland and I loved being an assistant coach," Hooper said.
"You don't get ulcers and you don't lose sleep as an assistant.
"Every time you look at a strong program, there's always one person
who has carried it through, and that would be Newland. He's the man in
the area, in the Newport area.
"He upset El Segundo, which had been the reigning water polo champions
(with 12 CIF titles) and its coach (Urho Saari) had been the Olympic
coach ... you could write a book on El Segundo water polo (from 1947
through '64). Newland had a team of young players (in '65) and ended up
beating El Segundo (8-7) and El Segundo hasn't raised (a CIF banner)
Many of the juniors who starred for Newland returned the next season
to play for Hooper, sort of.
The Sea Kings repeated as CIF champions in '66 under their new coach,
but they didn't always make it easy on Hooper.
"I think our problems (in '66) were unrelated to Hooper," McClellan
said. "The problems with us were, we'd been there and knew everything,
and I don't think we were as inclined as seniors to put in the time and
energy of the previous year. It was not unusual to find some players not
at workout, but instead shooting billiards or bowling or goofing off. It
was an interesting year."
Hooper, however, persevered and ultimately kept the CdM water polo
machine on top.
"Maybe others know more about water polo, but you never got (my
players) tired and you couldn't tire them out, so I did know how to do
that," said Hooper, known as a hard-nosed coach.
Hooper, who grew up in East Los Angeles and graduated from Montebello
High, played one year of football at Pasadena City College, then was
drafted in the U.S. Army.
"(The army) is where I really learned football," said Hooper, who
played under former NFL and Mater Dei High Coach Dick Coury during the
After the service and finishing school, Hooper got his first teaching
job at Glendale, and also had a two-year stop at Crescenta Valley, before
landing at CdM.
Hooper coached at El Toro and Santa Ana College after leaving his CdM
post, and, nowadays enjoys following the youth careers of his former
players' sons, like Kurt Krumpholz's son J.W., a 13-year-old who plays on
an under-16 squad.
Hooper, who has two grown children and lives in Laguna Beach, is the
latest honoree in the Daily Pilot Sports Hall of Fame.