Friday, July 9, 2010

Memory Lane Friday - A Game

This week's Memory Lane Friday topic is "A Game."

The first game that came to mind was the first polo game my team and I won back at Culver Girls Academy, Culver, IN.

Girls were able to join the JV and Varsity Jumping Teams (the hunter/jumper team), and had their own mounted drill team, the Equestriennes. They were also a part of the Rough Riders team - the mounted vaulting team. But when I started school there as a freshman, there was no girls' polo team - no opportunity for us to play polo.

That changed, however, my senior year. I'm not sure exactly what changed the leadership's mind (was it because we nagged pleaded all the time?), or when their minds changed. But somehow, something changed their minds.

Fall semester of my senior year, I was in an Advanced Equitation class (a two-period mounted horsemanship class to better our riding skills, meeting twice a week), and the instructor was Capt. Chris Kerner. He was also the Varsity Jumping coach at some point during my time on that team, as well as the Varsity Polo coach. Both the Jumping and Polo teams had practice after the day's academic (and specialized classes like phys ed or equitation) classes were over.

Anyway, since he was one of the polo coaches, and since I was the only girl in this particular equitation class full of polo players (mostly Varsity, a few JV), he decided to spend a few classes playing polo. Or in my case, teaching me the basics.

I remember being my usual relaxed self, when I walked into the office to check on which horse I was riding. I was expecting Black Lightning or maybe Black Tux or maybe another of the Varsity Jumping horses. See, I was pretty comfortable with all the flat work or jumping we did, because that's what I did all the time. I was good at it.

But no.

He gives me a horse number (each horse had a numbered stall, with that number on a corresponding saddle, bridle, and set of brushes assigned to that horse only). I became nervous, right there on the spot.

It was a number I knew to be in the polo pony section. Sure enough, when I asked, "Is this ____?" (insert whatever the polo pony's name was), I found out it was a polo pony. I think it may have been the pony named Finally, whom many mistakenly called Finale. I was surprised and my nervousness came from the fact that I knew NOTHING about polo.

Sure, I was a strong rider, but polo? Now roles would be reversed. I would no longer be the strongest rider. I'd be a competent rider, doing a new task poorly in front of a bunch of Varsity Polo players who were very good at the task at hand.

He said that we'd be able to play polo, and I asked, "Even me?!" Yep.

So off I went to quickly groom and tack up my pony.

And then we all mounted up in the arena. Oh, before heading out, Capt. Kerner had gotten a polo helmet for me and put my initials on the back of it.

I mounted up, and he had me warm up a bit, just trotting a bit around the ring. When he called me in, he had a mallet in hand for me. He showed me how to put the strap around my hand and the basic swings. He had me practice hitting a ball from a walk. I felt a bit like a dunce. But he had me practice on my own, using one half of the arena, while he had the guys scrimmage using the other half.

At some point, he told me the basic rules, and at one point, when explaining the finer points of defending the goal against a penalty shot, said, "Just don't block the ball with your face!"

During another equitation class, he actually let me scrimmage with the guys. Made me SO nervous, but it was good, because it helped me learn, and I was playing with players much better than I, so it pushed me to learn on the go.

Well, for the rest of the semester, we'd occasionally have an equitation class dedicated to polo, but we went back to our "regularly scheduled programming" - hunter/jumper lessons, trail rides, swimming the horses in the lake, an occasional ride into town to get ice cream at Dairy Queen (half the class would dismount and go in to get ice cream and bring it out for everyone while the other half would hold their horses, literally, as they went inside).

And then at some point, I learned that there would be a GIRLS' polo team the upcoming spring!! I was TOO excited. I learned that we needed at least 6 girls to participate. One of my good friends, Debra, was excited about it, too. Another friend, Katy, was also interested. Pretty soon we had exactly 6 riders, and one team manager.

I learned that it would be considered a "club" sport, not a "Varsity/JV" sport . . . though we were allowed to get the polo emblem on our varsity sweaters, if we already lettered in a Varsity sport - which I had (Varsity Jumping). Or something like that. All I know is that this first season, it was a "club" sport, but I had the polo mallet on my Varsity Sweater along with the jumping horse.

But the only problem for me was that the season would run concurrently with the Varsity Jumping season. I absolutely loved being on the jumping team. It was something I was good at, and it was just so fun. But I'd also wanted a girls' polo team for so long.

I picked polo.

(I did, however take a break for a couple weeks to ride with the Varsity Jumpers because I'd wanted to ride in the Culver Invitational Horse Show that spring. Neither the CGA Polo coach nor the Varsity Jumping coach had any problems whatsoever with this arrangement).

Our coach, by the way, was an alumna - Becky Ringley (Ms. Ringley, as we called her). She knew a lot about polo and was excited to teach us.

She made sure we knew the rules inside and out. She had us practice in the polo cages (like batting cages but with a horse frame, where we could sit on a "horse" and practice our swings). She had us practice without mallets, so our technique would be strong. She was tough on us. I remember that distinctly.

But I grew to appreciate the sport immensely. Sure, I'd enjoyed watching it. And I had learned a lot from Capt. Kerner. But Ms. Ringley was so darned hard on us . . . while practice wasn't necessarily "fun" at the time, we learned a LOT.

Unfortunately, since we were so new to the sport, and maybe because our team was in its infancy, our win-loss record was less than stellar. I think it ended up being 6 L - 2 W. Ouch!

But those two games we won (right in the middle of the season, I think)? . . . oh, man, were they fun!

The first one was Friday evening. It was thrilling. I don't remember who we played or any details other than the fact that I played that whole game that night. And I had 1 goal and 1 assist, if I remember correctly. I still get all butterflies-in-my-stomach excited thinking I had a goal and an assist in a winning game!!

I think the line-up was Katy playing #1 (offense), I was #2 (offense/defense), and either Ursula or Debra was #3 (defense).

It was sweet, this win.We were FLYING after the game, as we took care of the ponies and put all the equipment away.

There happened to be some dance going on that evening and we all went after we ran back to shower quickly and put on appropriate girly clothes. The dance happened to be outside. There was a bonfire and a DJ.

And I remember hearing "The Look" by Roxette and Nicki (another teammate) said, "Oooh, this should be our song! This is a perfect song for the team!"

I also remember hearing "Wild Wild West" by Escape Club, but only because Debra liked it. She had that typical big '80s teased hair being held in place by copious amounts of Aqua Net hair spray . . . she said the lyrics "I love her eyes and her wild, wild hair" were about her!

So every time I hear one of those two songs on XM's '80s station, I remember being SO excited at actually winning a polo game.

CGA Polo, Spring 1989
I'm standing; I'm the second from the right in the light polo shirt.
I had to scan this photo from my senior yearbook, so the quality is not great. 


Click on the button for the rest of this week's Memory Lane Friday entries:

Check back next week when the topic is "A Tourist Trap."

1 comment:

varunner said...

Rough Riders. Hee hee. You know - polo is one thing I never tried. Sounds fun though!

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