The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Water Polo Legend’s Impact Still Seen on Campus

In the heat of the Cold War, just 10 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. water polo team was in a battle with Cuba for the 1971 Pan American water polo championship in Cali, Columbia. At the start of the match, the spectators heavily favored the Cuban squad, cheering noisily for their Latin neighbors. Were it not for the strong turnout of American swimmers, the U.S. team would have been introduced to the sound of crickets.

However, the tides changed dramatically, and not because of any one player, coach or fan. Rather, the imposing referee representing America used soccer-inspired antics to fetch the balls, swelling support for the Americans. The team fed off the resulting energy and went on to win the match decisively.

The referee behind it all was none other than John R. Felix, the namesake of the school’s pool.

Though his 6’4’’, 300-pound frame no longer paces the school  pool deck, John Felix’s legacy lives on. The pool, reconstructed just over a decade ago, was named in his honor—though the man behind the memorial remains relatively obscure to most.

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A legend in his own generation, Felix served as both the boys swimming and water polo coach in the mid ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as a math teacher at both Mountain View High School and LAHS. His career, from his college-playing days to his eventual retirement, spanned 34 years. In 1990, USA Water Polo inducted Felix into their hall of fame, enshrining him amongst the sport’s best.

Former Eagle water polo Head C0ach Ed Samuels played in many high school games that Felix reffed.

“He’s one of the greats,” Samuels said. “Not only locally, but nationally as well.”

Felix was always an adept athlete. His talent led him to the University of Pacific, where he started on the Tigers’ team. In 1956, he helped lead Pacific to a 14-2 record and a second place finish in the nation, beating some of the most highly rated college programs of the day. Upon graduation in 1959, Felix decided to give back to the sport he loved and took up coaching as well as refereeing.

The rest of his career went on to be successful. By 1989, Felix had participated in over 150 international water polo competitions, including 4 Pan American Games and 5 Olympic games. Domestically, he officiated the biggest matches in the United States, the NCAA national championships, every year from 1969 to 1989.

Felix was a dominating presence, mainly because of his size. Though refereeing is pigeonholed as a terrifically corrupt role in the water polo world, it was Felix’s true passion.

“He was a real no-nonsense guy,” Samuels said. “Felix had strong opinions about water polo, and the calls he made reflected that.”

Former players looked to Felix as a father-like figure, intimidated yet keen-eyed with adulation for the man they called Coach Felix.

“Felix would stand on the deck, towering over everyone else,” former student athlete Kevin Tiffin said. “One practice, he pulled a kid straight out of the pool by his arms. From then on, we knew that Felix was the alpha dog.”
Tiffin also remembers hearing of Felix taking his tenacity with him to the classroom, where he taught math, primarily geometry. His class was known to be exceptionally challenging, and students had to be careful about staying focused or risk certain abuse by chalk.

“I had friends who had him as a teacher, and they would always claim to have to be ready to dodge flying chalk in his class,” Tiffin said. “He was strict, but all the kids said they learned a lot more from an authoritarian like him.”
Felix passed away in 1989 after he suffered a heart attack while playing soccer. He is survived by his wife Arden, as well as his two children, John W. and Jane Helen. John W. played water polo at UC Berkeley, where he won the 1984 NCAA championship, a match reffed by none other than his father.

Today, the school pool honors Felix as an exemplary figure in our community, for his dedication to both athletics and education. He touched the lives of students, players, teachers and coaches everywhere, helping to preserve the values of perseverance, dedication and discipline in our modern society. The school honors Felix for how he represented the school, and for that, his memory will live on.

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