More than 2,000 people, many dressed in pastels and wide-brimmed hats, watched polo in Patterson that benefitted the Putnam SPCA, the Purple Heart Homes vets charity, and Little Baby Face Foundation.
PATTERSON – U.S. team captain Tareq Salahi’s goal lifted his squad to an 11-10 win over the New York City Polo Club Saturday, keeping alive its 10-year winning streak.
Few in a crowd of more than 2,000 gathered at Beaver Creek Equestrian knew that the goal was the game-winner. Fewer still knew that the team is now 30-0 over the last decade.
But Saturday’s match wasn’t just about polo. It was perhaps equal parts sport, fashion show and fundraiser.
The Victory Cup, which ended with a fan-and-player dinner with food produced at local farms, is the brainchild of former state Senator Greg Ball (R-Patterson), who once used the polo matches as political fundraisers.
But this year, Ball, who now lives in Texas, where he is CEO of Black Stone Global LLC, a technology, marketing, investment and political consulting company, enlisted the help of Mahopac resident Lou Cardillo to add a charity component to the match.
And so a silent auction and part of the gate went to the Putnam SPCA, Purple Heart Homes veterans charity and the New York City-based Little Baby Face Foundation, which provides free reconstructive surgeries to infants to 21-year-olds born with facial birth defects.
Cardillo, owner of Yorktown’s Keller Williams Realty and The Lou Cardillo Home Selling Team, is a huge fan of the latter. The foundation provided his son Charlie, 19, who has Down’s syndrome, with ear surgery four years ago.
“People made fun of him his whole life,” Cardillo said, noting his son’s ears stuck out before being pinned back. “Charlie has more self-esteem, more self-confidence, a few girlfriends.”
“In the IT era, the new component is cyber bullying. It used to be you’d catch it going to and from school. Now you’re going to your own bedroom and it’s continuing perpetually,” said Dr. Tom Romo, who founded Baby Face 12 years ago.
Baby Face, which has a 30-member medical advisory board, treats 30-50 kids per year depending on funding. The kids come from all over the world but most are American and many have much more serious conditions than Charlie, sometimes requiring artery, vein and nerve attachments.
Certainly, the charity component was a big part of the match’s draw.
“The money is going to a good cause,” said Jackie Mackey of Somers and New York City, who watched with friends Suzanne Spangenberg and Debbie DeMelis of Carmel.
None of the women play polo, although Mackey, the only horsewoman of the group, did try polo once but emphasized it was only briefly. “I still have my teeth,” she joked.
DeMelis, who sported a fashionable purple hat, said, “I like the culture — dressing up — the whole atmosphere.”
Most female fans wore pastel dresses and many also wore color-coordinated, large-brimmed hats.
Multiple men and boys wore brightly colored bow ties and many sported pink or otherwise pastel shorts, sometimes check and paired with blazers. There were even awards given for best hat and ensemble.
The online clothing store Kiel James Patrick was a sponsor and some of its models were on hand.
The dress-up was part of the fun, according to Ball, who played arena polo when a lieutenant at Valley Forge Academy after he served in the Air Force.
Complaints were few. Most centered on the lack of an announcer’s help or printed material to explain the game, which was played with three players on each team on an indoor-arena-sized field, about one-tenth the size of a normal outdoor field. The ball, too, was different, something like a huge softball that felt like a volleyball, instead of the usual, smaller, harder ball.
“They should hand out the rules,” said Briarcliff resident Judith Meyer, who watched the action with her husband, Robert, and father-in-law, Sabin.
Still, enthusiasts hoped the match (abbreviated from four, seven-and-a-half-minute chuckers or periods to two longer chuckers) would help drive interest in polo.
The Washington D.C.-born Salahi, who played against Prince Charles in the prince’s last match in 2006, is lobbying for polo to return to the Olympics, where it not only existed prior to World War II but was its most popular sport, he said, drawing 80,000-100,000 fans.
“I think a lot of people think it’s just for the rich and famous but anyone can play,” added Salahi’s teammate, the British-born Debbie Nash, who, like him, lives in Virginia.
“Each year, it gets bigger and bigger,” said Argentinian-born Sergio Corro, who plays but for Saturday’s match simply supplied some of the horses.
“We’re trying to get a whole new audience,” Salahi said.
“I love the teamwork between a man, woman and a beautiful, gracious animal like the horse,” said Salahi, who plays in the International Polo Tour and also does about a dozen promotional games in the U.S. and more throughout the world annually.
Part of his sales pitch might make polo appeal to football and hockey fans.
Terming polo “ice hockey on horses,” he smiled and said of his sport, “It’s like telling Tiger Woods, ‘I’m going to run 40 miles per hour at you, yelling — probably using profanity. Now, try to make that putt, Tiger.’ That’s polo.” Read article…