Good Sport: A new sport of the kings

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DSC09598by Jeff Laughlin

Last Friday, Lake Daniel Park hosted what I can only describe as the single best sporting idea I’ve ever seen. Still, I never really want to organize or play this game. Hell, even the idea of the sport sounds painful and awkward. And it requires sets of skills I’ve never had.

Bike polo combines polo, a noble sport, with cycling, a layman’s mode of transportation, eliminating the scourge of the sporting world and its most expensive pet. Instead of horses, those foul cretins creating crap-covered fields, these gentlemen ride bikes. Without animal caretaking, the Greensboro and Winston-Salem bike polo participants have brought their game to the forefront of civilized sport.

Point of fact: As I walked up to the field of battle, where a spray-painted set of lines had been drawn, a lovely woman with a plate of lemon-curd and brie appetizers greeted my photographer and I as we watched the teams prepare their uniforms.

Oh what civility!

There would be a team of black shirts against a team of white shirts — a veritable who’s who in “good vs. evil,” at least in terms of color schemes.

Each participant held his weapon close as he mounted his mechanical steed. Most players had crudely constructed PVC pipes with a plastic handle jutting out of them. They resembled lightweight mallets, an obvious nod to croquet, another noble sport.

Each team had six people on the field at any given time with a substitution player on the sidelines keeping time. Bike polo can be played on grass — a more gentlemanly way — or on hardcourt — the ruffian’s arena.

“Grass is totally different than hardcourt. Ours is a lot faster. We get hurt more though,” said Winston-Salem participant Spike Lanouette. The Winston-Salem love of the hardcourt showed — Lanouette donned a facemask helmet and other out-of-town players had specially made bikes for hardcourt polo.

Instead of horses, those foul cretins creating crap-covered fields, these gentlemen ride bikes.

To prove his point regarding slowness, the ball often sat in front of the goal as players swung through patches of grass. Bike circled around the goal time and again until, finally, a player would get a clean whack at the ball. Balance and coordination play key roles in scoring. Staying upright, a difficulty in any sport, proved half the battle.

The points of order distinguish themselves from other sports, as any civil game would have it. Players cannot touch the ground with their feet once play starts, or they are subject to penalty: leaving to field of play to “tap out” before being allowed to return to action.

They split the game into 20-minute halves, with soothing music by a band from our nation’s capital, Fugazi, providing swells of temperate encouragement.

Of course, in sport, all cannot be civil and dainty. Down 3-2, Team Black’s captain encouraged his players to fight with vigor, but also use their natural advantages.

“Guys, remember to play dirty — take their mallets and move them over a little bit,” he shouted after a particularly egregious allowed goal.

The game pitched back and forth. Bike blocks — using the wheels or body of the bike to inhibit shots — oft spoiled Herculean scoring efforts. The strategy reached a particular apex when the rain began. Certain players had custom-built bikes for polo, but their less-treaded tires slipped more on the slick grass. Staying upright proved more treacherous, so the game’s sloppiness and excitement peaked.

The crowd of doting wives and awe-filled children scrambled for cover, causing disquiet amongst patrons. Kids cried out for sanity and peace, causing delay in the contest as the bargain barbarians took time to soothe their offspring.

This gave Tim Cox and others time to discuss the sports’ humble beginnings.

“We started this in 2008 or 2009 as a way to be dumb and have fun,” Cox said. “You can’t play a lot. I joke that the three- or four-month layoffs we have are for recovery.”

Rob Easton knows that all too well. He left the field early in the contest with a hamstring problem.

There was no time to dwell on injury or discussion for long. The rain subsided and the children’s fears allayed, the fathers became warriors again. They came to the final minutes of a tight game, yet no one — sideline onlookers or players themselves — seemed to care about the score.

Bike polo — the horseless beauty, the thrilling competition, the dexterity of motion — did not make enemies of these men. Instead the experience joined them together as all sport should.

“It’s adrenaline, it’s action-packed and it’s dangerous. There’s moments of adrenaline mixed with moments of sublime acrobatic beauty,” said Grady “The Shadow” Peace. Though he spoke with his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek, he still looked on in wonder and awaited his return to a slippery battlefield. Someone needed to tap him in, and when they did, he rode gallantly, controlling his machine as a perfect participant of the newest sport of kings.