L.A. South: Pasadena coach inducted into USA Water Polo Hall of Fame

Jennie Jacobsen-Huse is credited with helping start the girls' water polo program at Pasadena High School and spurring a movement that spread across the San Gabriel Valley.

Her trailblazing efforts didn’t end after high school. She continued to promote women’s water polo at UC Santa Barbara and at the international level, culminating with the introduction of women’s water polo in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Jacobsen-Huse, the girls' water polo coach at Pasadena High School, was inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame on Saturday night in a ceremony at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel. She was one of five new members to the U.S. Water Polo Hall of Fame, joining Robin Beauregard, Michael Garibaldi, Kyle Kopp and Wolf Wigo.

She started the first girls' water polo teams at Pasadena High School when she was a student.

“When I got to high school, we had boys water polo and the girls were swimming,”said Jacobsen-Huse, who graduated from Pasadena High School in 1972. “When our season was over, we said we wanted to play water polo. They actually didn’t tell us no. We just started playing. We just got so many other local high schools in the San Gabriel area to play: Temple City, Muir, Blair, Pasadena, all the Pasadena schools.”

It would take nearly two decades before girls' water polo was accepted as a CIF-sanctioned sport, but it didn’t keep Jacobsen-Huse and her teammates from playing.

“We ran it for the next three years,” the 57-year-old Jacobsen-Huse said. “We just kept running as a club level sport. We got some of the boys to be volunteer coaches for us. It was great. It wasn’t, of course, a CIF sport or anything like that, but we had probably 30 girls playing at Pasadena High School.”

When she arrived at UC Santa Barbara, it was the same scenario. The school had a men’s water polo team, but offered only swimming for the men and women.

“At UC Santa Barbara, there were a group of us again that were swimmers and we asked, ‘Can we have some time to play water polo? There’s a lot of us that want to play,’ ” she said. “We had pool time. We had again some volunteer coaches from the men’s team. The university gave us club status and gave us some of the old broken down Suburbans to travel in. We ended hosting tournaments, a tournament at Santa Barbara, a tournament at Chico, a tournament at San Diego State. The next year Berkeley came in. It went from there.”

After college, Jacobsen-Huse played on the Merced Water Polo Club team and won a national championship. After her playing days, she helped establish the first USA Water Polo National Office in Colorado Springs working toward having women’s water polo in the Olympics.

“We had to work through all the international folks who weren’t ready for women in the sport yet,” Jacobsen-Huse said. “Any chance that I had we started to talk about how the women could be playing. What were the women’s teams like in Yugoaslavia and Holland and all these other places. We just kept talking and talking and talking and trying to get them to understand that yes, we wanted to play. We needed more teams. It was a catch-22. They said you had to have an Olympic sport but we couldn’t if we didn’t have teams playing in college. It all had to tie together.”

The U.S. women’s water polo team won the silver medal in the 2000 Summer Games. The women won bronze in the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics.