About 20 years ago, Fordham’s water polo program was in trouble. The pool in the Lombardi Center at Rose Hill needed upgrades and improvements before the players could use it—and those upgrades would be expensive.

Without them, the “the program was at risk,” said Richard Sweeney Jr., GABELLI ’88, an alumnus of the water polo program.

Sweeney and another water polo alumnus—Nicholas “Kola” Romano, GABELLI ’89, a Fordham trustee fellow—appealed to alumni, seeking funds for the improvements, and received a strong response, to the tune of more than $75,000. “We realized we had a really strong alumni base, and there was a lot of interest” in supporting the program, Sweeney said.

NCAA Championship Contenders

Other fundraising campaigns followed. The program built an endowment as alumni support grew and progressed. More funding also came from the University, friends of the program, and student-athletes’ parents. And the program was strengthened and revitalized under the leadership of head coaches Bill Harris and Brian Bacharach, who has served in the role since 2020.

All of this brought results, helping Fordham water polo boost its national rankings and advance to the NCAA championship twice in recent years. The program has raised its profile in faraway markets—in California and Europe in particular. Now, Romano and Sweeney are co-leading a new fundraising push for Fordham water polo—a three-year, $300,000 campaign to help the program reach new heights in the NCAA and bring new visibility to the University, both across the U.S. and abroad.

Competing for the World’s Top Players

This effort dovetails with the larger University campaign, Cura Personalis | For Every Fordham Student, which seeks to raise $350 million to enhance the entire student experience, including athletics.

Romano and Sweeney got the idea for the water polo campaign last fall. The team had won the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference championship for the second year running. It had achieved top-15 rankings in Collegiate Water Polo Association polls that are typically dominated by universities on the West Coast, where the sport is more popular.

And the program has been attracting more interest from prospective students abroad, especially Europe, where water polo is more of a fixture than in the United States. Today, half the team’s student-athletes come from other countries. “We’re a viable alternative now for the top players in the world,” Romano said.

The new fundraising campaign is off to a strong start, boosted by a Fordham Giving Day campaign that netted more than $115,000, exceeding its goal. Campaign funds will create new possibilities for recruitment, scholarships, competitions on the West Coast or overseas, and other things that build the program and raise its profile. The campaign is paired with efforts to engage alumni in mentoring student-athletes and providing them with networking opportunities.

Romano and Sweeney are optimistic, given past successes.

“If you invest in [the program], if you get the right people in charge, and there’s a strategic vision for the future, a lot of greatness can come from that,” Romano said. “We took a team that was almost at a club level 20 years ago and is now a top 15 program in the country.”

To ask about contributing to Fordham Water Polo or another athletics program, contact Kara Field, director of athletic development and assistant athletic director, at 973-223-2157 or [email protected].


Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].