April 4, 2011 / 10:08 AM / 8 years ago

Urban teens excel in sport of kings -- polo

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - It may be the sport of princes, kings and the wealthy, but a group of teenagers from Philadelphia have become the first all-black team to win a national polo championship.

(L-R) Kareem Rosser, Brandon Rease and Daymar Rosser pose before a polo skills competition in West Palm Beach, Florida March 29, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

The team, based in a remote barn in the city’s Fairmount Park, is known as the Cowtown/Work to Ride team, but Kareem Rosser, an 18-year-old member of the winning squad, prefers another title.

“We’re known as the West Philly speed boys,” he said.

Rosser, his younger brother Daymar, 16, and fifteen-year-old Brandon Rease won the National Interscholastic Championship at a tournament at the University of Virginia last month in the indoor version of the sport. Each team has three players, as opposed to four on the larger outdoor polo grounds.

Their coach, Lezlie Hiner, is under no illusions about the sport in which the speed boys have excelled.

“It’s still an upper middle class white guy sport,” she said. “These kids are not from polo playing families. It’s not like that they’re moving into a family tradition.”

The Rossers’ interest was sparked by their older brothers who introduced them to the sport and Hiner. Both boys attend the prestigious Valley Forge Military Academy outside of Philadelphia on scholarships.

Kareem, trim in his academy uniform, knows what polo has brought him. He left his row house neighborhood to move to the academy to play polo and excelled at the sport as one of the speed boys.

“Polo has given me the opportunity to travel the world and also has taken me off the streets of Philadelphia to a new world,” said Kareem, who has played polo three times in Nigeria.

Before polo he described himself as a frequent truant. But that is not an option under the structured environment of Valley Forge.

Hiner also instills discipline and makes sure members pull their weight and do chores around the aging barn, which houses 23 horses. Riders also have to do their own laundry to prepare for trips.

The riding club is situated in an urban park setting and the barn is surrounded by corrals. But there is no mistaking it for the more pastoral home of horses in states like Kentucky or Virginia.

On Saturdays, the old barn is filled with both horses and riders who are cleaning stalls, mowing the lawns around the barn and doing other general chores. They’re required to work there for eight hours a week.

The private riding club is financed through grants and private riding lessons. But Hiner said money has been tight since the economic downturn.

But any worries about finances were forgotten when the team won the polo championship.

Slideshow (2 Images)

At one point the West Philly speed boys were up by 10 goals. In the blink of an eye the opposing team scored five goals, but the Philadelphians won, 24-17.

Daymar said he knew they could win the match when there was less than a minute to go.

Immediately afterward, “I hugged my brother,” he said.

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