In his four-decade career as a player and coach in California and Texas, Dennis Fosdick worked at every level of the sport, from high school competition to the Olympics. In 2002, shortly after the Texas Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association named its MVP trophy the 'Dennis Fosdick MVP Trophy', he was elected to USA Water Polo's Hall of Fame. A native of San Diego, 'Foz' was born on February 4, 1939. His family moved to Palo Alto in 1948. He followed graduation from Palo Alto High School by earning bachelor and master's degrees from San Jose State University, where he played goalie on the Spartan men’s team. While at SJS, he spent his free time as the swimming coach at a youth club in East San Jose, coaching age group swimming as well as assisting the Santa Clara University swimming team. He then worked a three-year stint as the head coach of Amarillo Swimming. Foz succeeded Pat Patterson and the legendary Art Adamson at Texas A&M University in 1970. Adamson, an initial 2008 inductee to the TSDHOF, was already known as 'the Father of Texas Water Polo.' Foz, then, was 'the Godfather'.
As head coach at Texas A&M throughout the 1970s, Fosdick compiled a 189-32-1 record with national championship appearances in 1975 and 1977. He started the university’s women’s program in the mid-1970s and enjoyed similar success. While at Texas A&M, he also launched the Texas State Water Polo Tournament for high school teams. Fosdick refereed and organized all of the championships through 1979, also promoting clinics at the College Station campus that helped high school water polo flourish in Texas. What began with 8 to 12 boys’ teams playing in the Texas A&M State Championship tournament became a hotly contested 16-team, three-day championships in which 91 teams from the state vie for the Texas Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association State Championship. Since 1977, an equal number of girls’ teams play in the girls’ division of these championships. His earliest successes were won by his former players and assistant coaches going out into the high school ranks. The best of Texas high school players aspired to play for his Aggies, and after he left A&M and went back to California, they followed him. Even after leaving Texas, it was his tireless dedication to the development program of the U.S. Olympic Team that educated and motivated the very best players and most successful coaches. Many U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches are products of the annual water polo development camp created and run by Fosdick during his 18 years of service as chair of the U.S. Water Polo National Development Committee. He would get sponsors for the camps and development teams and he talked well known artists and filmmakers like Jack White and Greg Bonhan (producer of Baywatch) to donate their time to develop manuals and videos. Over 25 years, Foz conducted 62 camps.
Fosdick moved back to California in 1980 to work with the men's national program and to take the position of head swim coach/assistant water polo coach at Long Beach City College, where he was Southern California Community College Athletic Council Conference Swimming & Diving Coach of the Year. He was the U.S. team leader for the 1981 World Junior Championships, the 1987 Pan American Games and the 1988 Olympic Games. He continued to support all high school water polo as chairman of the U.S. Water Polo National Development Committee from 1978 to 1996. During his 11 years at Occidental College (1993-2003), the women's water polo team made eight consecutive appearances in the nationals, winning the championship - Occidental's first - in 2000. He was named "Coach of the Year" six times, including Division III honors in 2000.
"The time he spent with water polo limited the time he spent with the family," said Dennis' brother, Wade 'Bud' Fosdick. "He'd show up for the important holidays and then rush off to some camp or tournament. He just spent so much time with water polo. He once told me he thought he could never get married because no woman would put up with the hours he devoted to water polo. He really devoted his life to it."
Foz did, however, have a few other interests outside of water polo. He was an avid collector and trader of cowboy and native American art and artifacts, made his own Indian beadwork and claimed to be the owner of the only two Kachina dolls in the world that commemorate a Hopi's dream of water polo. He also spent several years remodeling his 1920s vintage Spanish revival home in the hills of Glendale, which was featured on the cover of "American Bungalow" magazine in 2001.
"He did a great job with his house," said long-time friend and renowned architect Jay Flood. "Foz could have been a great architect. He had a real eye and talent for it."
Cheri Swatek, a coach with Long Beach Shore and Cal State University at Long Beach was a USA Water Polo member who grew close to Foz in his last years. She was the person who took Dennis to the hospital and was his daily companion the last few months.
"Dennis was a great mentor, great teacher and a great friend," Cheri said. "I knew him first through swimming and when I switched to water polo couldn't have been happier. He invited me to the development camps as an intern coach. Even though I didn't know very much, he treated me with respect and as staff, not just an intern."
"Dennis showed such strength during his illness," said Cheri. "He knew he had cancer and went into the hospital thinking he was going to have a kidney removed and would be back on deck coaching in a few weeks. And on his last few days, he seemed to be getting stronger. He was alert and joking with visitors like Terry Sayring, Ken Lindgren, Monte, Rich Corso, Terry Wong, Occidental AD Dixon Farmer and some of his Oxy players. The doctors said he shouldn't have been conscious at the end because his body had disintegrated inside."
On Saturday, February 1, 2003, Foz was anxious for his brother, Bud, to visit and shortly after the two exchanged some private words, Dennis slipped into unconsciousness and passed away. He was 63, and about to begin his eleventh season with Oxy Tiger water polo.