It is impossible to count the number of hours Brent Bohlender has logged thinking about water polo; coaching water polo; eating, drinking and sleeping water polo.
For going on four decades, Bohlender has been a self-appointed ambassador for and defender of his sport at every level. In 2001 he was inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame and is considered the most successful girls' high school and age-group club coach in the history of the sport.
Bohlender has spent the past 18 years heading the Johansen High program following stints at Beyer and Davis (where he launched his coaching career in 1976). He recently reached the 1,300-victory mark as a coach in his 34th season.
It's a staggering figure by any count, and one that takes on greater meaning when considering his career has been spent coaching in public schools, all in the same community.
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"That's the thing I'm most proud of, that it's all been done in town," said Bohlender. "It's been with three different schools, in a multi-team town."
Entering today's quarterfinal round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs, where his girls team has an 11 a.m. game against St. Mary's of Stockton at Lodi's Tokay High, Bohlender's record stands at a remarkable 1310-501.
"If you really lay that out, you're looking at a lot of losses. Man, 500 is a lot of losses," Bohlender says matter-of-factly before grinning.
The number of wins increases to nearly 1,700 if you count his victories as a swimming coach.
Among his accomplishments:
44 league championships.
Four section championships.
A national winning streak of 128 matches from 1996-1999.
Former head coach of the U.S. Women's Junior National Team.
USOC Developmental Coach of the Year, 1999.
Founded Modesto-Stanislaus Water Polo Club in 1977.
During his run at Johansen, Bohlender's girls teams have averaged more than 28 wins per season.
"I've been very fortunate," Bohlender said. "You can't win if you don't have the kids, and I've been lucky to have the kids."
Bohlender, who retired this year as a history teacher, hasn't decided if this will be his final coaching go-round, but admits "every year, coaching four teams ... it can be very wearing."
Oakdale coach Alan Stender has known and admired Bohlender since the early 1980s, when Stender played for Tokay.
"I think the world of him as a coach and mentor," said Stender. "When I started coaching five years ago, his teams were, and still are, the standard that we strived to beat."
Somehow, said Stender, Bohlender has managed to stay ahead of the curve.
"When I was in high school in the early 80s, he was coaching the Grace Davis girls. We had a girl or two on our boys team, but he had an all-girls team, and that seemed weird at the time," recalled Stender. "He was a pioneer, blazing new trails, and now I have two girls who love water polo and I'm am so thankful."
Bohlender's sphere of influence extends well beyond Stanislaus County.
College coaches from California to Michigan have him on speed dial and recruit from his program because they know his players will come mentally and physically prepared to compete.
"The thing about Brent is, he allows players to be athletic and doesn't limit their athleticness," said Matt Anderson, women's water polo coach at the University of Michigan. "He also teaches them that it's OK to compete and it's OK to want to win."
Anderson, whose relationship with Bohlender dates back to the early 1990s when both were USA Water Polo committee members, says coaches trust Bohlender's opinion when it comes to recruits because they know he'll always provide an honest assessment of an athlete's talent and potential.
"The nice thing is, Brent will tell you when he has a player who he feels is appropriate for your program," said Anderson, whose roster recently included former Johansen star Geraldine Hazlett and includes former Vikings standout Ryley Plunkett. "Some coaches want you to recruit their kids so they can say this kid is being recruited by this university. But Brent seeks out coaches when he has somebody who he feels would be best for that coach and that school, and that's very helpful as a college coach."
Bohlender was talking to Anderson about Plunkett when she was a sophomore.
No coach has more history with Bohlender than Turlock's Steve Feaver. The two met back in 1971, when Bohlender was a student at California State University, Stanislaus and Feaver was a first-year coach at Turlock fresh out of Fresno State.
"Both of our teams have always been competitive and I imagine we're pretty close to 50-50 against each other over the years," said Feaver. "We've developed a friendship and a camaraderie as coaches here in the valley."
Bohlender says that camaraderie with fellow coaches is what stands out the most.
"Water polo is such a small fraternity that we are all a very tight group," said Bohlender. "Whether it is the old guard like Steve Feaver or (Atwater's) Roddy Svendsen or (Merced's) Jon Dibblee or the younger coaches like (Pitman's) Drew Clute, (Modesto's) Mike Chiavetta, it is a tight group and it has been a strong factor in my continuing coaching."
It makes Bohlender proud of the entire region, not just his own teams.
"We started a polo program for all kids in the area in 1977 — and this program has nurtured water polo throughout the county. That club program has served hundreds of kids in the area and allowed them to enjoy the sport and meet new friends, travel and experience many different things," Bohlender explained.
"Nationally, we have traveled from one coast to the other to play water polo and this has allowed for lasting friendships to be forged, and experiences to last a lifetime."
It's more than just longevity that impresses his fellow coaches about Bohlender. It's the entire package — coach, mentor, club director, fan.
"I think that if you didn't know Brent, you wouldn't realize how much time he has actually given to the game of water polo," Anderson said. "It's just amazing that he's spearheaded the effort in the valley, especially on the women's water polo side. If it wasn't for Brent, water polo in the valley would be nowhere near the popularity it is today.
"What he's done for the game has been phenomenal."