Since 1983, hundreds of high school boys and girls water polo players have come through the Newberg program and left with indelible experiences. Some look back fondly at the moments of championship glory, while others with horror at the memory of daily double (and sometimes triple) workouts that tested the limits of their athletic and emotional endurance.
Through it all, the man on the deck was Jim McMaster. The influential leader of the Newberg program retired earlier this summer after 38 years, amassing 39 state championships. His final two were as an assistant to Cari Blanchard with the girls' program.
"I've been thinking about it for the past few years, and there's a time when you're getting later in life and deciding, 'What else do I want to do?'" McMaster said. "I retired from park and rec a couple of years ago, but I wanted to coach polo a little bit longer to make sure there was a good transitional coaching team to take over the program and keep it going. I love the kids, and the sport was changing a bit, so I figured maybe it was the time to move on."
Matt Bayha takes the reins of Newberg's girls program, while Michael Rubottom will head the boys' side. Both had children come through McMaster's program and bring plenty of coaching experience themselves.
Their initial connection to McMaster showcases just how long he's been heading the Tigers' polo squads.
"I think they'll do well because they have the experience," McMaster said. "Oddly enough, Matt and Mike both coached before, and both of them were players I coached against when I was coaching Newberg in the early 80s. These were kids who ended up being successful in their own right, and both their kids played for me here in Newberg, so it's interesting how some things come full circle."
McMaster isn't on social media, so keeping up with his hundreds of former players isn't easy. But he always seems to reunite with them either in high school water polo circles or outside of the sport. Catching up with them is one of his greatest joys, he says.
"What stands out more to me than all the state championships we won is being able to see these kids who played for me go out in the world and become successful," McMaster said. "That could be with their work, with their families, or life in general… seeing that is far more important to me than all the success we had as a program.
"I've never done Facebook or Twitter or any of that stuff, so periodically, I'll just run into kids I coached who've moved on with their lives and become adults. They're doctors, lawyers, dentists and all that, and seeing that happen over so many years has been an awesome experience."
The influence McMaster had on the sport is unmatched in the state. He presided over the state water polo association for more than two decades of his coaching career, overseeing an increase in participation from around 10 teams in the 1980s to more than 40 today.
His former players and assistant coaches find themselves in other coaching spots throughout the state as well. And those who've played for McMaster seldom forget his attention to detail or the volume of his voice when stressing those details.
With his water polo coaching career done and barring a sudden itch to return to the sport, McMaster will now dedicate much of his time to backpacking and biking at outdoor destinations throughout the Northwest. He will also remain involved in whatever's going on in the lives of his adult sons, both former NHS players. At this point, McMaster said he's happy to hand the polo programs off to a new slate of coaches.
"We have a great community here in Newberg, and I'm glad I was able to participate in something special with the kids in this community over the years," he said. "I see great things down the road for the sport of water polo, and it's exciting to see a new generation take over and move the program forward."
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