By Charlie C. WilcoxWhen I first received this assignment from the paper, I was downright outraged. How could such a foreign and exotic sport like Polo exist in our area, and how could I have not heard of it before? Polo just seemed like such a hoity-toity and proper sport in the modest countryside of the Saint Croix Valley. What is really being played is a combination of polo and lacrosse.
Polocrosse is an international sport, widely played in Australia (where it originated), Great Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. The activity started as a training exercise for learning horse riders during off-seasons, when they weren't working on their more vigorous routines. Think of it as Victorian cross-training. Polocrosse blends both Polo and Lacrosse into the most interesting sport.
The rules of Polocrosse are actually quite simple. There are three players on each team, each with their own horse and stick. The sticks, to a casual observer, appear to be crude wooden ancestors of the modern Lacrosse stick, which makes them even more terrifying as the riders plunge through the mud, swinging them freely. Number 1 players are the offensive; they score goals. Number 2 players can play both offensive and defensive, while number 3 players just defend their goal. Games are also surprisingly short, lasting only eight minutes each. The offensive Number 1 riders simply have to bounce the ball in the end zone and then lob the ball through the goal posts to score.
When one thinks of Polo, images of a prim and upscale English country club, of fine wines and caviar being consumed come to mind. In short, the image of Dory Johnson does not come to mind. Dory, complete with a battered cap, sweaty jersey, and a browned and muddy once-white pants, shapes up to be the exact opposite of properness and neatness. She wipes horse hair and dirt onto her soiled trousers before she shakes my hand. (After seeing one participant shed a surprising amount of blood on her uniform, your humble correspondent is forced to wonder which wise guy actually decided on white.)
Dory, a lifetime rider, is set to play on the World Cup team, where she will travel to England to compete against seven other nations. I immediately ask her the first question that comes to mind: "Do you really expect people to take this sport seriously, or do you just do it for fun?" She responded, "Polocrosse is a seriously fun sport, but we do also take it seriously. It's a great way to give new riders confidence in their abilities, and it's quite an easy sport to get into, too. I really want this sport to grow."
Polocrosse is gaining in popularity across the United States. Minnesota has its own club, Minnesota Extreme Polocrosse or PLX. Most of the riders who competed in the 4th of July tournament at Chateau Saint Croix came from Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, some combatants made their way all from Texas, Maryland, and Delaware. The Chateau St. Croix, a winery seven miles north of downtown St. Croix, has hosted the tournament for several years now, and even houses year-round practices for local players.
When I first arrived at the Chateau, it shocked me. Nestled in endless rolling corn fields sits a gigantic stone fortress. In any other setting, the Chateau might look prudish.
In fact, polocrosse itself is the common man's rebuttal to the affluent: dirty, rough, and definitely not proper. Maybe that's why the sport was attracted to this area, a land where the people have no pretensions or affectations. Like polocrosse, we don't try to be anything we are not, even if that means sometimes we get a little messy.
The polocrosse association hosts a tournament Sunday, August 29 at the Chateau. Play starts in the morning, there's a lunch break and afternoon games start after 2 p.m.