Growing up in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood, Daymar Rosser thought “polo” only referred to Ralph Lauren’s clothing line.
But after two older brothers started playing through the Work to Ride program, he warmed up to the game at age 10, got hooked and now wants to play the sport professionally.
“Polo is a huge change for a lot of the kids in the program,” said Lezlie Hiner, Work to Ride’s founder and executive director, by phone. “The fact that they’re riding a horse is an anomaly.”
Now 17 and a junior at Valley Forge Military Academy & College, in Wayne, Pennsylvania, Rosser will compete on the nonprofit’s team on Saturday against the Harvard Polo Club at the second annual Scottsdale Polo Championships in Arizona. A portion of the proceeds from the ticket sales will go to Work to Ride and the nonprofit Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health at Scottsdale Healthcare.
Work to Ride has connected with disadvantaged and at-risk children since 1995. The program offers summer camp, riding lessons, horse boarding as well as polo. Hiner requires polo players to earn at least a C grade in all courses. They’re also mentored by students at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University College of Medicine.
“The kids get to interact with kids all over the country and they forge friendships through polo,” Hiner said.
Facing Harvard on a polo field would have been unimaginable six years ago for Sheree Harris, 17, a student at Upper Darby High School in Pennsylvania.
Her family learned about the Work to Ride program by accident when her mom made a wrong turn while driving in Philadelphia and ended up at the program’s horse barn.
Harris, who wants to study nursing or medicine, has no fear of facing a college team, whether it’s Harvard or another.
“We’re all doing the same sport,” she said. Harvard “is just a name.”
“We’re expecting a very challenging match against Work to Ride,” said Shawn DeMartino, a junior at Harvard College and co-captain of the Harvard Polo Club. “They’re incredibly good riders, and we have had a very difficult time beating them in the past.”
Hiner’s polo program has gained international attention for attracting young, talented black players to the sport. Last year, her Cowtown Work to Ride team won the U.S. Polo Association’s national interscholastic championship. It was the first time an all-black team won a title.
“A lot of people think of polo as an elite sport that’s only for the rich and famous, and they think of Prince Harry or Prince William or Prince Charles as the people who play polo,” said international polo star Nic Roldan, who plays for the Palm Beach, Florida-based Audi Polo Team. “It’s a sport that can be played by anyone.”
The Argentina-born, U.S.-bred Roldan will be one of the big draws for Saturday’s three featured matches as he captains the California-based Bel-Air Polo Club against the Hamptons team, which is based on Long Island and will be led by star player Tommy Biddle Jr. Work to Ride will take on Harvard after the competition kicks off with the U.S. polo team going against Colombia.
(The Scottsdale Polo Championships will be held Saturday at Westworld of Scottsdale’s Polo Field at 101 and Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. in Scottsdale, Arizona. Gates open at 10 a.m. Information and tickets: http://thepoloparty.com or +1-480-840- 0457).
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