Alexis Crocker is the 2016 West Region Water Polo Boys Coach of the Year. That might not sound surprising for the coach of the Midway High School team, which won the region. But Crocker does not work for Midway ISD. Instead, she is a volunteer coach while also a student at Baylor University School of Education, majoring in secondary English, Language Arts and Reading. She started coaching the team her freshman year, when she was barely a year older than some of her players.
Crocker played high school water polo in her hometown of Okemos, Mich., notching two state titles, a runner-up and a final-four finish. When she came to Baylor, she wanted to try coaching, but wasn’t sure how to find a team. Because water polo is a non-UIL sport in Texas, programs are not as abundant as in Michigan.
“I googled ‘water polo in Waco’ and didn’t find anything,” she said. “I finally found the Midway Swim Team, and on the left was a little tab that said ‘water polo.’” The team was in its infancy, just finishing its first year. She emailed the coach immediately.
And Midway Coach Dan Marlin emailed back, telling Crocker that the season started in February, so check back after Christmas. “A lot of college kids would get distracted,” he said. But Crocker emailed him the moment the new year arrived. “That told me I was dealing with someone who was very motivated and wanted to do this,” Marlin said.
During the water polo season (about two-three months), Crocker attends every practice — an hour and a half, five days a week. Then there are about seven all-day Saturday tournaments, so she devotes most of the weekends to those. The culmination is the state tournament. Although Midway won its region this year, they fell short at the state level in late April.
A 2002 graduate of the Baylor School of Education, Coach Marlin is also the Midway swim coach, a teacher, and director of the PALS peer mentoring class. He said that, when he was a Baylor student teacher, he too wanted some coaching experience. “The coach just put me in charge of one of the middle school teams and said, ‘Do it.’ That’s what I wanted to do for Alexis, so I told her, ‘You’re in charge, and I’m your assistant coach.’ And she ran with it and has done an excellent job.”
Crocker said that the team accepted her because of the high standards Marlin had set. “I was concerned going in, as a female coaching a male sport, and I’m close to their age. But it was never a problem. Coach Marlin set that expectation — ‘This is your coach, this is who you’re going to listen to, and she’s going to help us out.’ And they did not question him for a second. He had set a high standard for how the team should work together.”
For a first-time coach, Crocker definitely took to using the whistle quickly. She whistles early and often to get the attention of the water-logged boys in the echo chamber of the indoor pool at the Waco Family Y, where they practice. Then she barks some instructions or advice, the team members adjust, and play resumes. “I love the whistle,” she confessed.
Marlin said that Crocker is a natural and knew how to strike the right balance. “She knows when to push them and how to get them to respond,” he said. “They understand she cares about them. When you get athletes to know that you care, they will play harder, they will work harder, they will swim harder.”
Midway goalie Jack Saxon, a senior who will attend Baylor in the fall, said Crocker has helped the team grow. “At first, it might seem like it wouldn’t work, since she was a freshman when she started,” he said. “But our seniors led the way; they respected her, and that trickled down. Our team has definitely grown in three years, and she has grown too. We’re proud of what it’s become.”
Except for the whistle, Crocker hopes to translate her coaching experience to her career as a teacher someday. “It’s helped me learn how to manage a classroom more than before,” she said. “To be able to command respect from a group of kids while still having fun and keeping them interested, that’s the prime time of teaching. That’s where the magic happens.”
Early field experience is also what has made her Baylor School of Education experience a great one, Crocker said. “The Baylor program is so much better than any other school I’ve heard of, because they get you in the classroom from day one. I know a lot of people who make it to their senior year internship and realize they either cannot teach or hate it. At Baylor, you know from the beginning whether you’re in the right place, and it’s very comforting.”
In addition to her volunteer and academic efforts, Crocker runs a photography business and held a leadership role in the Education Living-Learning Center in South Russell Hall this year.
—By Meg Cullar
If you’d like to watch the Midway water polo team in action, check out this video by Jack Saxon: Midway Water Pol