Good Sport: My kingdom for a bike

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by Anthony HarrisonAnthony Harrison

The scene at Lake Daniel Park in Greensboro epitomized the platonic ideal of a lazy spring Friday. The sun shone brightly from a patchily cloudy sky. A cool breeze whispered through the leaves of the huddled hickory trees. Couples strolled by, walking dogs or starting up games of tennis in a court adjacent to the playground, where a few moms watched their young sons scamper on the mulched earth. A teenage girl swung on the swing set, dialing in to her smart phone while the set creaked strongly and rhythmically: ScrEE, scree, scrEE, scree.

Only two things broke the mold in that verdant, ordinarily perfect scene, occurring on the field close to a lone weeping willow, which rustled along with the breeze rippling through the hickories.

Rapper TI’s “What You Know” burst out of a portable speaker system as four men on bicycles batted a miniature soccer ball with improvised paddles from one end of an improvised field to another.

The seventh bike polo match began, slowly but surely, on the evening of May 15 on the Lake Daniel lawn.

“It started as a neighborhood thing over beers at Tim [Cox]’s house,” Mark Wilson, one of the players, said.

Wilson, Cox and Brian James, all participants, all live nearby on Fairmont Street in the Westerwood neighborhood.

“It was one of those group beer ideas, out of the blue,” Cox said. “We then realized other people were as crazy as us and doing it, too.”

Swinging makeshift mallets at a little ball while riding a bike does seem to require a touch of insanity.

“How dangerous is this again?” one player asked during a pre-game huddle, laughing a little nervously.

“Nobody’s ever gotten seriously injured,” Wilson said following the game. “You’re allowed to hit and nudge a little bit. I broke two fingers one year in a collision.”

The first period — known as a “chukka” — ramped up at 6:30 p.m. Wilson set his phone alarm for 20 minutes, and the teams faced off. There were four men on each side, one team in black, the other in what was supposed to be uniformly white, but circumstantially included light gray and blue.

Following the faceoff, the game started slowly, clumsily. The first wipeout occurred only 3 minutes in as a whiteshirt stumbled and slid off his mount.

I suppose playing cycle polo is – excuse the cliché – like riding a bike: You quickly re-acclimate yourself.

Within minutes, both teams were making shots on the goal, without initial success.

The white team scored first at the 13-minute mark.

Wilson stopped the game at that point to allow a short break. Another player was about to arrive.

“Hey Mark, who’s gonna fight for Tyler Benedict?” a spectator asked.

“Don’t know,” Wilson replied. “Maybe we’ll have him as a sub.”

During the break, the players plucked cans of Genessee and bottles of Sierra Nevada from a cooler. Their wives sat at the picnic tables under the shade of the trees, sipping Mirassou pinot grigio and munching on fare from Urban Street Grill food truck.

All of the players were male. Their wives, children and friends gathered like maidens at a joust, some with rapt attention, some chatting about movie stars.

After Benedict’s arrival, the game picked up in pace.

Benedict played for the whiteshirts through all chukkas, a blue-shirted ringer. Within the last 7 minutes of the first chukka, the white team scored three more times, raising the score to 4-0. Benedict babied the ball into the black goal almost instantly following his debut and also made impressive stops and shots throughout.

While Benedict contributed greatly to the white team, the black team had their own captain.

Throughout the match, Wilson embodied the competitive, slightly insane heart and soul of the game.

“I’m just takin’ y’all out like bowling pins, bwahhhh!” Wilson hollered during the first chukka.

Wilson mowed and marked the field, assembled the goals and built 16 polo mallets — a design he has steadily refined into PVC piping mounted at the end of ski poles.

While the bike polo matches are informal, Wilson was very into the game.

After the game, he said smiling, “I played lacrosse, which is a contact sport, so I bump people around a bit, get in their faces. But they’re good sports about it.”

Over the course of the game, there were multiple jostles, collisions and crossed mallets, but everyone could get up and continue after a hit without bad blood.

Though the white team scored plenty early, Wilson’s blackshirts began to rally in the second chukka, closing the gap to 5-4 in the third, but Benedict scored again at the 19-minute mark. The final score stood at 6-4.

The players congratulated each other, their repeated “Good game” refrain punctuated by the clack of mallets.

“We’re hoping to get another together in the fall,” Wilson said. “Winston-Salem has their own group, and we’ve had up to 20 people on the field. That gets fun.

“It’s the most fun you can have on a bike,” Wilson added, smiling.