Surgeon Helps Water Polo Take Flight

When Spencer Dornin conducted his first practice as the head coach at Pegasus Water Polo, he had just one child in the water.

(ABOVE: Water polo is growing in popularity in Highland Park thanks to the work of coach Spencer Dornin. Courtesy Pegasus)

Almost two years later, the club includes more than 80 members and holds about 20 workouts per week at four different venues, including Highland Park High School and the new natatorium at SMU.

Such growth speaks to the niche that Pegasus is trying to fill — giving aspiring water polo players in the Park Cities and surrounding neighborhoods an opportunity to get involved and grow the sport.

“It’s been really exciting,” Dornin said. “It’s been growing every year, and the competition is getting stronger.”

The club is the brainchild of its president, Nikola Zivaljevic, an orthopedic surgeon who grew up in a water polo family in Europe, where the sport is more popular.

After moving to the United States during the 1990s, Zivaljevic founded a successful youth club in Pittsburgh.

When he relocated to Dallas about four years ago, he saw a similar opportunity to get youngsters involved.

“Building the program, we’ve touched a lot of families in a very positive way,” Zivaljevic said. “The kids are in a very healthy sport that’s physically demanding and builds character.”

California is the hotbed for American water polo, but its popularity is increasing in other parts of the country. National officials see Texas, with its abundance of athletes and pools, as a key market to continue that trend.

“We saw a gap in the market that nobody was serving,” said Houston Hall, a longtime Park Cities resident who serves on the board for Pegasus and for USA Water Polo, the national sanctioning body for the sport. “We’re really pleased at the growth so far.”

Dornin grew up playing water polo in Southern California, was a team captain for the powerhouse men’s team at UC Berkeley, and played professionally overseas. He joined Pegasus while serving as an assistant coach at St. Mark’s, which is the most decorated high school program in the state.

“I just want the opportunity for more kids to experience what I’ve experienced,” Dornin said. “We try to create a positive environment for them to thrive.”

One goal is to increase visibility for the sport, but it’s also important to boost competitive skills. Most members are children ages 8-15, both boys and girls, although Pegasus also serves older teenagers.

Plus, with greater interest among high schools statewide, water polo is under strong consideration to become the next sport sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League.

“We’re building a pipeline for that,” Hall said. “It’s grown tremendously the last 10 years.”

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