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Water Polo

Jim Ranta, ‘Godfather of Water Polo’ in the Area, Aquatics Coaching Legend, Passes Away at Age 71

Jim Ranta coaching at Dos Pueblos in 1971. Ranta built the aquatics program at Dos Pueblos. Click to view larger
Jim Ranta coaching at Dos Pueblos in 1971. Ranta built the aquatics program at Dos Pueblos. (Courtesy photo)

Jim Ranta, the man who ran the aquatics program at Dos Pueblos High for decades and has been called the “Godfather” of water polo in the Santa Barbara community, died Thursday from a heart attack. He was 71.

Ranta taught math and coached at Dos Pueblos for 40 years. He retired in 2012 but remained active in the aquatics program, serving on the board of the local water polo foundation, attending water polo games and often serving as the public address announcer at swim meets.

He coached several outstanding athletes, among them Chris Segesman, a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic men’s water polo team who later went on to become a successful high school water polo coach at Mater Dei.

Ranta was a teacher of current Dos Pueblos and San Marcos athletic directors Dan Feldhaus and Abe Jahadhmy as well as many other teachers and administrators in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

At Friday’s San Marcos at Dos Pueblos boys and girls basketball games and the San Marcos at Santa Barbara girls water polo game, fans, players and coaches paid tribute to Ranta with a moment of silence. 

“Our aquatics programs were essentially founded by and remain in the image of Coach Ranta, said PA announcer Rob Schiff before the start of the boys basketball game. “Jim Ranta was also an enormous part of the foundation of our school and our spirit. There are literally thousands of us who have been blessed by Jim’s kindness, his relentless enthusiasm and boundless passion for bettering the lives of anyone he ever came in contact with.”

Ranta followed Pete Garst as the varsity water polo and swimming coach at DP in 1971-72, reported alum Alex McDavid.

Ranta was a strong advocate of starting girls water polo in high school. He coached the first team at Dos Pueblos in 1994. Fourteen years later, DP started a run of four straight CIF championships, three under Danelle Little and one under Chris Parrish.

Peter Neushul, the father of three outstanding water polo-playing daughters at DP,  Kiley (Class of 2011, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist), Jamie (Class of 2013) and Ryann (Class of 2018), played for Ranta at DP in the 1970s. He later worked with him to build the pool at the school and sat on the board with his coach on the Santa Barbara Water Polo Foundation.  

Jim Ranta coached and taught thousands of students in his career. Click to view larger
Jim Ranta coached and taught thousands of students in his career. (Courtesy photo)

“Jim Ranta introduced generations of high school boys and girls to aquatics,” Neushul said. “He coached with a calm, quiet, demeanor that commanded respect from his athletes.  Times have changed since the 70s but Jim Ranta will always be "Mr. Ranta" to my generation and I believe many others.”

Allen Lorentzen, a longtime water polo referee and former president of the SBWPF, was a walk-on assistant coach under Ranta at Dos Pueblos in 1978. He later coached against him at San Marcos and then got him into officiating water polo.

“He’s a very, very close friend,” Lorentzen said between officiating the girls varsity and JV games between Santa Barbara and San Marcos on Friday.

“The biggest thing about Jim was he had a big heart, and he had thousands of student athletes he taught and coached,” said Lorentzen

One of Ranta’s favorite things to do was sing karaoke.

In his tribute to Ranta at the basketball game, Schiff called Ranta “a karaoke legend.”

Lorentzen said he accompanied Ranta to several of his karaoke performances.

“Every time we’d go there was someone who’d say, ‘Hey, Mr. Ranta.’ And he say, ‘I taught her trig in 1989.’

“Many people have called him the godfather of water polo because he’s been here for decades,” Lorentzen continued. “The biggest thing is everywhere he went he was always shaking hands, seeing people who adored him.”

Ranta was a junior college swimming All-American at Riverside City College before coming to UCSB, where he swam and played water polo for coach Rick Rowland.  He was an All-American swimmer in 1967-68 and helped the Gauchos win their first NCAA Division 2 swimming team title in 1967.  In water polo, he played on UCSB's first team to play in the NCAA Tournament in 1968.

Before taking over the aquatics program at Dos Pueblos, Ranta had coaching stints with the UCSB frosh swim team (1969), Santa Barbara High swim team and first-ever water polo teams (1970 and 1984).

In 1975, he helped start the Santa Barbara Water Polo Club with Santa Barbara High’s Don Randall and UCSB coach Dante Dettamanti. He coached numerous high school All-Americans and in 2004 Segesman became DP’s first Olympic water polo player.

After retiring from the school district, Ranta continued to serve as a member of the Santa Barbara Water Polo Foundation Board and worked closely with the South Coast Community Aquatic Center to build the Elings Pool that today is among Southern California's finest water polo venues.

“Mr. Ranta does not have a long list of CIF titles after his name but his unwavering support for water polo in the Santa Barbara community led to the creation of one of California's oldest and most powerful clubs,” Neushul said. “Numerous members of the organization Jim founded and helped build went on to attend elite universities.  I would never have had the opportunity to play collegiate water polo if Jim had not worked with other coaches to join all local high schools and create a club team capable of competing at a high level.

“Mr. Ranta's positive, kind, unselfish personality played a pivotal role in forming a water polo juggernaut that generated coaches and athletes with CIF titles, Junior Olympic Championships, NCAA titles, World Championships, and Olympic Championships that are too numerous to list on one page.

“His water polo progeny are among the most accomplished in California history."

Ranta is survived by his wife, Nancy, his children, DP graduates Heather and Jeff, and his grandchildren.

A confirmed date and location for a Celebration of Life will be shared soon.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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