Archive for Stories

Organization: How Much Is Too Much?

govtmeeting

One of the draws that bike polo has for plenty of us is just how little organization it has. Or at least, how disorganized it seems. To someone who is outside of the gritty of the sport, it just looks like a weird, spontaneous collection of people who happen to all be rolling past a court and decide “oh, why not, let’s invent a game right now.”

But to anyone who has spent more than a month playing, it’s very clear that there are many forces at work to assure that things happen which need to happen.

No, I’m not talking about the NAH level, necessarily, but more about the club level of organization.

In The Beginning…

When I first started playing with Lancaster, there was no elected leadership (our godfather, Kyle, was the de facto leader) and certainly nothing more than absolute democracy (one person, one vote. No representation). This worked out because we weren’t really trying to do anything other than play, and we were all pretty happy about it, I think.

But then had a series of events which required more than one guy to decide on, and needed less than the whole club to take action for. This happens to every club, I believe, and it lead to the idea of “polo elders,” or players who had more experience as being members of the club and could be trusted (more or less) to do what was right for everyone.

In this structure we managed to purchase a generator, develop a transportable lighting system, and also managed to make club shirts (though that was much harder than it should have been, truth be told).

Lancaster United Gets Some Government

government-structureBut even that wasn’t enough–or maybe it was–and that takes us to where we are now as a club: we’re preparing for the Eastside Qualifier, we just elected Elders to lead the club for a year, and the Elders have asked one of the players (appropriately, Fat Stacks,) to act as treasurer because we’re now collecting club dues from club members. 

This is all kinda amazing when you think about it, and I’m curious if other clubs collect dues from players. Actually I wondered for a while if we were going too far with it all, if it made any sort of sense to be so rigid in our organization.

But when I got to thinking about it, it made lots of sense: there are times when a situation comes up (buying club shirts, paying local gov’t for space, insurance costs, court/light upkeep) where only a few members actually pitch in; or the people who do pitch in are the same ones who always do. By putting a cost on membership, we assure that the load is balanced fairly between players, and we also have a bit of money for any unseen expenses. Read more

Local Bike Polo Team Goes to Sochi Olympics

Sochi

Sochi, Russia–Local bike polo team “The Farmer’s Daughters” arrived in Sochi yesterday to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics. The three players; David Magbee, Troy Young, and Emilie Watts, touched down just 12 hours before the games were set to commence due to a scheduling error on the part of their coach, Matthew “Horse” Krofcheck.

“Does anyone really know how to figure out local time?” Krofcheck said when asked about the mix-up.

The Sochi Olympics are shrouded in scandal already, and the late arrival of the three American Bike Polo players adds to the already tenuous relationship the States have with the Russian Federation.

“In Soviet Russia, schedule keeps you,” a stereotypical representative of Russia said, probably after drinking “whodka” and wrestling a bear or something.

Despite the mix-up, “The Farmer’s Daughters” have high hopes for a good showing during the games.

Sochi 2014

The press conference was held here, at the parking lot outside of a Vodka supercenter

“I think we’re the only team here who even plays bike polo,” Watts explained. “No, I don’t mean that as a sarcastic jab at other players. I really think we’re the only people who are here to play bike polo.”

“Is it even an Olympic game?” Young asked reporters at a press conference held in a parking lot.

“We don’t even have matching team shirts.” Magbee  said when asked how prepared he felt for the games.

The three, after a lengthy call to the US Embassy and a much louder call to their coach in the States, have decided to press on and try to combine bike polo with a recognized 2014 Olympic sport. The Sochi games will be the first to feature Bike Polo Bobsled.

“We’re going to die doing this, aren’t we,” Watts said as they rode off towards the Olympic Village.

Growing Pains: Bike Polo and American Football’s 400 Year History

football old

Huge hat tip to Gene Fruit for pointing out this podcast to me recently. 

It seems, at times, that bike polo is doomed to get lost in a mix of arguing over rules, equipment requirements, and a general “we do what we want” attitude holding back any real formation of a standardized way to play (as evidenced in the bench format/3 man/no set positions arguments we see every single year). But we are not alone in the chaotic birth of a new sport.

Point in fact, we need only look to the glory and absolute majesty that is/was the Superbowl to see another sport which, in it’s beginnings, was wrought with confusion, double standards, and a complete mix-up when it came to it’s future.

Native American FootballAmerican football started before America was America. According to a recent podcast by On Point, Native Americans were playing a form of football that English settlers quickly identified to have similarities to their own more bloody, less sportsmanlike “mob ball.” As Susan Reyburn (Author of Football Nation: 400 Years of America’s Gameexplains, the Native American game was quickly absorbed by settlers. (Their lands and own gainful existence was also taken by the settlers, but that’s a different topic altogether).

What is interesting in this podcast and in the history of early football is it’s eerie similarity to the problems we’re currently facing in bike polo today. Consider the following: Read more

A Polo Player Goes Camping

boy scout

In the course of emptying out my polo bag (to stuff it with spare socks, jeans, and manly-man, I’m-totally-prepared-for-this lumberjack shirts), I found not only several items I thought surely lost, but also a bottle of hot sauce, six beer bottle caps, and about a  half cup of glass from the break in on my car a few months ago.

I went ahead and wiped out the bag a bit more than I expected, imagining my underwear filled with trace amounts of glass. Whoa boy.

And so I packed, with the gentle and disappointing reminder that this wasn’t for a tourney–that I didn’t really need to bring my favorite Gunk bicycling cap, my mallet, my spare tube.

Oh, well maybe I’ll just pack the cap and the mallet in case. Nobody will notice them in the trunk.

I pick up my nephew after spending a whole day dreading the high pitched squeal that only emanates from a pack of ten year olds at work and he is decked out in his full camping regalia. He is excited, and it makes me happy to be part of this, even if it does mean that I’ll probably miss bike polo on Sunday. I push my wheel covers out of the way (I might need them too, you don’t know what cub scouts do these days) and put his stuff in the car with mine. We’re off, and he’s already planning how we’ll kill a squirrel and eat it.

Bonding.

We meet with the rest of the pack at a Chik-fil-a. I look at my car compared to the other parents: stickers from my club, a bike rack, inexplicable mallets and those wheel covers poking up from the back seat. They all have SUVs with “proud of my cub scout” on them. Maybe the “read local” sticker I have will qualify me as an alright uncle. who knows.

The parents ask me where I live and what I do. I tell them I’m an editor, and they naturally ask of what. Well, it was good while it lasted.

I explain the blog and my regular job, which leads to a series of questions about bike polo and an equal series of blank nods and half-smiles. I order an extra chicken sandwich to stop myself from crying. It’s always worked before.

The cabin we’re staying at has bunk beds and I sleep on the top. I’m scared of falling through and killing my nephew, but it seems to hold. as soon as I hop down the scout master tells me I should lock my car doors, even though we’re in the woods. I wonder what would prompt this until I see a cub scout named “Francis” using one of my mallets in an attempt to chop down a tree, and two other scouts trying to break acorns with my helmet.

“They’re all so violent,” I say. Read more

A Little Home-Town Drama

drama

A month or so ago, Lancaster was setting up for it’s weekly Wednesday play (I’m going to be dramatizing this a bit, as I was not there at the time). They set up the lights, the moon shining off of Kruse’s skin enough that they questioned whether they were really necessary at all, and play commenced.[I'm not really sure Nick Kruse was there, I just wanted to that same joke as much as possible.]

However, a local law enforcement officer official came by and, unlike interactions with other police officer men before, commented that we really shouldn’t be playing at night unless we have permission, as the park is a dawn-to-dusk sort of place.

And, of course, he was exactly right.

And here are some lessons on what to do when that happens, dear readers: 

1. Instead of putting up a huge fight or simply ignoring the warning, Lancaster United said “ok, officer,” and shut down for the night. We then created an email chain to discuss what happened and next steps.

2. Next, it was decided that the best people/person to approach would be the Township, so after a somewhat extensive series of emails back and forth within the club’s current leadership, I called them up. I was told the guy I needed to speak to was out, and I could leave a message (which I did with my authoritative-but-not-a-jerk voice).

3. The township man called me back and I was nice as a hobbit can be to him. I explained we were at fault–I explained that we’d been using the court for years and that we made the goals that stand there now. I talked about how much we clean the area and keep the rink in good order. He was very impressed with all this, and then told him our problem.

He was already receptive to the idea of helping us, as out of everyone who used the rink, we were apparently the only ones who actually cared about it.

4. After he told me he’d bring it up with the committee to decide on, I left him alone for a week, and then called.

And then called again the week after.

And then called again the week after that.

And then once more during the next week.

Each and every time, I did so with courtesy, graciousness, and understanding. After all, we are such a tiny concern for a guy who needs to explain why snow isn’t being cleared/why the fire department doesn’t have enough money/etc.

Eventually (yesterday) I sent him an email, and he asked for a formal request.

5. The formal request was a great opportunity for me to show that we were not just a bunch of kids wanting to bend the rules for the sake of bending the rules. I presented our case, leaving out sport specific language (if he ever asked, of course I’d tell him, but it’s just as easy to not try to describe bike polo).

He loved the request, advised me to come to the meeting when it was discussed (this upcoming week), and told me he’d be reinforcing that this shouldn’t be a very big deal).

So, in summary, what I think we as a club did intelligently:

  1. Respectful and willing to follow the officer’s warning
  2. Didn’t try to sneak back to play
  3. Went through the correct routes to request permission
  4. Presented what we did for the benefit of the community (fixing up the rink, having goals made, cleaning up trash)
  5. Willingness to be present at committee meeting to speak directly to decision makers

Where it goes from here? Well, I guess we’ll see how the conversation goes with the committee. But I’m damned sure we aren’t the first club to deal with this, and definitely not the last. We stand to lose Winter Wednesday play, but stand to gain a set time and space for polo as well, so I’m very excited to see how it all plays out.

This is Hardcourt: A Bunch of White Guys.

NAHcourt

Let me start by immediately walking back on that title: I really, really appreciate the work Mr. Do does for our sport. Point in fact, I think he’s one of the most entertaining, important producers of bike polo content in the world. We’re lucky to have him and to have his dedication to our sport. 

But there was something a little funny about the recent (beautiful) video he helped make called This Is Hardcourt. While it was wonderfully rendered and made me excited to call myself a bike polo player, it seemed strangely–I don’t know–singular in its content.

By this I mean: if I didn’t know anything about bike polo and watched this video as part of a sponsorship package, I would think that only white males play the game [there are a few frames where women appear, but no narration to back up that this is a normal thing].

And, to be really frank with you, that’s a pretty accurate depiction of the sport (it’s mostly played by white males, I’m not blind for goodness sake). But it’s not the whole story, and certainly not what I’d want to show potential sponsors.

If you read the articles on this site, you know that I am pretty excited by the co-ed nature of the sport. And while I haven’t touched on it very much, I’m also jazzed by how inclusive the sport is to anyone who wants to join in (we don’t have a gay-bashing, alternative lifestyle hating culture in bike polo, is what I mean). We’re a pretty open, awesome group of people.

But, if I watched this video, I wouldn’t know that. I’d think it was a boys club. A white boy’s club–which is kinda behind the curve, don’t you think.

As soon as this video came out a few folks reached out to me to get my opinion and vent, and I’d like to share what they told me. The first was Lisa, who explained:

I was disappointed when I first saw it because clearly its purpose is as a promotional piece and it obviously didn’t illustrate that this is a coed sport, neither did the commentary. I have spoken with Ben Schultz about it and he’s seeking an edit, which is good to hear. Women are working just as hard on and off the court and I think that will really appeal to potential sponsors. Polo is one of the few truly coed sports out there and it should be celebrated.

Next, Anne emailed me with much the same sentiment, though explained a bit more: Read more

What Are You Afraid Of?

afraid

As a member of the polo press (The Association of Bike Polo Journalists), I probably spend more time thinking about the future of bike polo than most people should. I think about not only where I’ll be in regards to the sport in ten years’ time (in a wheelchair, writing cryptic missives from the bench), but where we’ll all be in even 5 years.

It makes me creep out, sometimes, as there are days where the current discussion around the game spins its way into something close to collapse. In particular, there are a few things that I’m afraid of whenever they come up or someone gets particularly riled up:

balanceWhen folks think there is not a balance between no-rules and NAH rules. This one is more boggling than anything, and strikes me as the same nonsense that comes out of super-liberal or super-conservative arguments. There really isn’t any reason to believe that one side is going to kill the other, nor that one will triumph in the future. There aren’t very many absolutes in the world, and I don’t think there are any in bike polo.

But the conversation remains heated: people who follow the rules are mocked when in the minority, and likewise people who don’t know the rules are shunned when they find themselves in a sea of pro-rules folks. Outside of the enjoyment in watching these groups attack each other with confusing and non-applicable rants (“You’re doing it WRONG!” or “You’re RUINING what bike polo IS!”), they fail to see that this kind of self-challenging is a healthy way to balance the way the game develops as we see more involvement and standardization in play.

What scares me is, simply, that people will become so very blinded by their belief there is no chance for balance that they actively work against it, resulting in a longer-than-necessary growing pain period.  Read more

What’s Your Retirement Plan: Life After Polo

forbesbikes

Let’s say there comes a day (and this day is surely decades away, right?) where you can’t play polo anymore. You’re just too old, too tired, or too broken apart by the sport to play anymore in the “big leagues” of organized tourneys.

It’s bleak to think about if you’re currently an involved, tourney-active player–but no person remains in peak condition their whole lives. Well, almost nobody. Lumberjack is inexplicably the most fit person I’ve ever met and he’s past the typical age of a polo player. Dude is going to outlive us all.

But let’s say, for whatever reason, you aren’t able to play anymore. Have you considered what you’re going to do? Have you given thought to how you can stay involved, or are you planning to just completely abandon the sport?

Well, my hypothetically retiring friend, let me make a few suggestions to you before you sell off your bike to a museum and start going to your club’s 50 year reunion. Read more

The Promise of 2014: Will Bike Polo Grow Up?

New Year Baby

Whenever I’m fortunate enough to find myself on a day which contains polo, my thoughts always lend themselves to three over-arching concerns:

1. will I be able to find clean bike polo clothing?

2. will anyone bring beer and/or snacks?

3. will someone come to the court to kick us off?

It doesn’t matter that we’ve been playing at the same location for years, now; we’re not supposed to be there. And with each encounter between ourselves and roller hockey players/parents of roller hockey children/police, we draw ever closer to a moment where someone in power will tell us we can’t use the rink anymore–and then Lancaster United is back to square one (as far as a perfect place to play is concerned).

glueBike polo is, for better or worse, a baby. It isn’t able to stand on it’s own, can’t support itself, and certainly can’t run with the bigger kids (imagine hockey, football and baseball personified as tween children running well ahead of a baby (bike polo) being pushed along in a stroller by Ben Schultz. Baseball is a kid who is eating glue near a pitching diamond, if you’re curious). Bike polo isn’t widely recognized, it’s not widely accepted as a legitimate sport by the townships and local governments that we so earnestly approach for our own space, and it’s certainly not in the collective conscious of our culture.

In short, bike polo needs to do a lot of growing up if I indeed want to stop thinking that we’ll be forcibly removed from our playing area every time we saddle up.

red bull2014 is a new year, and all new years carry the assumed possibility of big changes. I’d like to think that 2014 will be the year that the NAH manages to get some sort of big sponsor to foot the bill for the Qualifier Series, a Red Bull or Gatorade that will demand our sport be put in at least a nationally syndicated commercial for a few months–raising recognition and respect of our players. I’d like to think this is a possibility, that when a group of bike polo players approach a local government they don’t spend the first thirty minutes trying to explain what bike polo is, and then another thirty minutes trying to explain why it’s worth listening to their request.

It’s something that can’t happen, I don’t believe, without a bigger spotlight on the sport. All we need is one big spotlight just for a little while: perhaps Nationals or Worlds being a “Red Bull Event,” as much as that might stick in the gullet of a few people in our community. Or it might be as simple as Nike deciding to try sponsoring a few teams for a grand each (and putting pictures of that team up on their home page).

I don’t know quite what growing up would look like, but I know we aren’t there yet, though we should be if we’d like to start seeing multi-use courts welcoming bike polo players, the securing of tournament areas becoming easier, and bike polo as a whole continue to gain players and supporters rather than becoming stagnant.

This Year’s BEST ARTICLES

BEST OF

You know you want the standard “best of” list, and who am I to keep such a thing from you, my loyal troop of polokin. As 2013 draws to a close, I want to take a look back at the top 3 articles from Lancasterpolo. Sure, this is a cheap way to come up with content, but it’s also interesting to see what tickled the fancy of you readers out there. You lovely, lovely readers.

So, in reverse order:

#3 Ladies, Stop Putting Yourself in Goal

ladies-of-polo-150x150This was perhaps the article with the most personal impact for me, as it lined me up with getting a new writer (Tigerlily, my Germany based Polo correspondent), opened up a dialogue between myself and Charlotte of Boston bike polo, and got a very strong amount of thanks from people all around. Not without criticism though, as a few people sent me personal emails saying that I wasn’t basing my conclusions on anything that could be proven, and a few more saying it wasn’t my place to speak for the women in the sport. Either way, it opened up the conversation a bit more, and for that I am proud.

#2 New Regions?

Hipstervania-150x146Let’s be honest with each other: I came up with this article and picture on the way to work. I created the image in very little time and expected it to go no-where. But, as is often the case with articles I write on the fly, I was wrong about whether it would be liked or not. It seems like my amazing art skillz were put to good use. point in fact, Lumberjack was willing to make up a more better gooder looking version of my graphic, which I hope to make into spoke cards or stickers for those who’d be interested/for giveaways at qualifiers next year.

#1 What Will Kill Bike Polo

skull-150x150The “What Will Kill Bike Polo” article got the most hits out of any article written this year, and probably the most shares/traffic as a result. It’s not altogether surprising, I think, as bringing up the death of our sport is a sure-fire way to tap into the Mashable formula of headline writing.

Also not surprisingly, people either strongly agreed with me or strongly did not. Most folks took issue with the idea that Bench format would be a savior of the sport, and I get the criticism. Either way, you folks seemed to love it, and that’s just swell.

 

And those are the top 3 of the year. Two dealing with serious topics, and one goofy one. I think that’s a pretty good mix to keep in mind for the upcoming year–HOWEVER: if you think there are some things I should be talking about more, feel free to let me know (or write them up yourself and send ‘em my way).

I thank you for a great year of readership and support, and hope you’ll join me again next year for more frivolity and inaccurate conclusions!