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Bike Polo Championships

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Bike Polo Championships

Ben and Joe vie for the ball!

This weekend Chicago Bike Polo is holding its North American championships. The event will take place in Chicago’s Garfield Park on the tennis courts just south of the field house. According to Chicago Public Radio’s Gianofer Fields if you see them from a distance it looks like the players are floating through the air.

Approximately twenty – two teams from as far away as Ottawa and as close as Madison will compete for bragging rights in the hardcore world of Bike Polo. According to tournament organizer Ben Shultz they should be traveling fairly light.

SCHULTZ: The equipment is a bike, a ball and a mallet and if you got six people, you got a game.

It’s been around for over a decade and even though it’s called Bike Polo, the game is played more like hockey but without a set goalie. The game is beautiful to watch, fluid. It’s three on three so everyone has to bring their “A game.”

SCHULTZ: It’s a rotating cast. If you can’t do everything you that you need to do on the court that’s a weakness. It’s about positioning, where to put yourself on the court.
REICKS: Yeah, defense I can do. Offense I’m useless. I do what I can to help my team and that’s hit people with my bike.

That’s Sam and he’s only been playing about two weeks and while he’s working on his skills, he also has to learn the rules. You’re allowed to make some physical contact with your opponent within reason. The bike community is pretty mellow but that chill fades when the competition heats up. Ben says the main rule is…how can I say this…"Don’t be a jerk!”

SCHULTZ: We want to preserve the game the way it is without putting in to many rules and so if someday it gets to the point where we have to put in rules we’ll all be kinda depressed about it.

In a non tournament game, teams are chosen by tossing the mallets. A player holds six mallets behind his back and divides them into two sets of three. They hit the ground, the players pick them up and get ready to ride. Alexis Finch is sidelined with a jinky shoulder. She’s pacing along the fence, watching the game and chatting with friends. I can see she’s itching to play.

FINCH: So we got Ben coming around he’s got control of the ball, passing it back to a teammate so they can center up at the top of the goal. Op, missed pass spinning around again. That was a quick little stop there that man has got some major maneuverability out there on his bike. Alright we got Abe taking the ball up the court. He’s passing it back to Joe. Joe’s bringing it up trying for a shot maybe…no goals blocked, goals blocked he’s gonna wait for a second. Back handed shot and it’s good. That’s right.

In this game Ben and Joe are opponents. Joe is tall, thin and one of the few left hander’s playing the game.

FINCH: Joe’s got probably our fastest shot our there. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed but he’s taking them from half court and further back and they go in. His accuracy is pretty impressive and you do not want to get in front of that ball if it’s coming at you. You want to block it but you don’t want it to hit any kind of skin.
PANIZZO: Yeah, I have a good shot. I played hockey for ten years. Tennis since I can walk so the hand eye coordination is there for me. To brag a little, I’m probably the best lefty in the world. I can say that with confidence, too, and all the other teams will agree. I hope they all listen to this…they better. The world needs to know.

On this night there are few spectators in the park. Gregory lives in the neighborhood and is on his way home from work. It’s about seven in the evening and he’s dying for dinner but too curious to go home.

DANIELS: I thought it was some kinda rugby game at first some kind of soccer game or something. But I can understand it now bike polo I see that. FIELDS: They do have some extra bikes and you could play if you wanted to.
DANIELS: No, not tonight. I gotta work tomorrow. I gotta work tomorrow. My wife wouldn’t like me to come home hurt; at least not before payday.
FIELDS: You can get hurt on Saturday but not before payday!

Valerie has been playing for about two years. She says she’s glad more girls playing now when she started. Now there’s about five on the Chicago crew. Valerie is one of the more skilled players on the team. Her thing is strategy. She learned slowly first by watching and then by playing. That’s kinda the way it’s done. There are always extra bikes around for those who want to give it a go.

MOECKEL: That’s what’s awesome about the bike scene is whether you are good or bad at anything like polo or mechanics or if you ride fast or slow, most people in the bike scene are really cool people. Like really accepting, really friendly. They’re a family.

The practice games were supposed to go until nine o clock, but the timer on the lights is messed up and it’s getting too dark to see. The players pack up their gear laughing about what’s happened on the court, hashing out strategy for the tournament and trying to decide where to meet for drinks.

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