Kris Pritchard, a former high school swimmer, had always been curious about the sport of water polo. After his job as a high school math teacher brought him to D.C. in 2007, he decided to check out a Washington Wetskins water polo practice.
“I had not been in a speedo since my high school swimming days and showed up to my first practice in board shorts,” says Pritchard, laughing. “Everyone else was in speedos so I ran right out and bought one.”
Now 31 and working in higher education evaluating accreditation standards for college programs, Pritchard found the Wetskins to be more than willing to teach basic water polo skills to a beginner.
When he joined the team, he was also hoping to meet other gay men outside of the bar scene and was surprised to find that the Wetskins had evolved from their days as a primarily gay team. Half the team is straight females and there are a lot of straight men.
That’s not as big of a surprise as one would think as many of the LGBT sports teams in D.C. have become a mix of gay and straight athletes. The Wetskins still have their speedos firmly planted in the LGBT community though, and this summer will send a mixed team to the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland.
“Everyone who plays on this team knows that they have to come in with an open mind because everyone thinks it is a gay team,” Pritchard says. “In 2008, we hosted the water polo portion of the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics Championships (IGLA) in D.C. and in subsequent years we competed at IGLA in Reykjavik, Iceland and Seattle, Washington. Half of our team will be straight at the Gay Games this summer.”
Pritchard, who is from Pittsburg and graduated from Ohio University, became obsessed with the sport of water polo after joining the Wetskins. Leading up to his first Gay Games, he will be training with the Wetskins two days a week and swimming with the District of Columbia Aquatics Club at least two days a week.
“One of the things that I love about water polo is the team sports aspect,” he says. “It feels great to share success as a group. I feel like the Wetskins are a representation of where society is going as a whole. Gay, straight, men, women; No one asks what you are unless they want to sleep with you. Nobody knows and nobody cares.”
Pritchard says that his teammates have become his best friends and that even outside of the pool, he sees them all the time.
“They are cool, chill people,” he says. “We spend a lot of time in the water up close and personal with hardly any clothes on. It’s a natural progression to bond outside of the pool.”
For his trip to the Gay Games in Cleveland this summer, Pritchard is looking forward to seeing the different sports and the larger scale of LGBT athletic community. He is also hoping to connect with some old college friends who are still in the area.
One thing he won’t be doing is wearing board shorts. He will be rocking a speedo, and loving it.