Unflagging commitment: Lititz man receives national polo honor

By on August 2, 2017

Robbie Zekany (right) with brother Tim during Sunday’s ceremony at Forney Field.

The Lancaster Polo Club was matched up against Darlington, Del., and won on a historic day for the U.S. Polo Association (USPA) this past Sunday at Forney Field in Rothsville.

Robbie Zekany of Lititz became the first flagger ever to receive recognition on the U.S. Polo Walk of Fame.

The Zekany brothers played polo at Forney Field long before the Lancaster Polo Club established its roots in Rothsville. Robbie fell in love with flagging for the team more than 35 years ago, just as the team fell in love with Zekany’s joyful manner and giant bear hugs.

“Ben Forney would pull up with a string of horses behind his red Cadillac, with the Zekany boys behind him,” Kenneth McSherry, director of operations for Lancaster Polo Club, reminisced.

The Lancaster Polo Club has been around for about 77 years, with 56 of those years played on Sundays at Forney Field.

“We grew up across the street from Ben Forney,” states Tim Zekany. “We rode Ben’s horses in his field.”

The Zekany brothers would groom the horses, move the hay, and tend for Forney.

“It started out as something for Robbie to do,” mentioned Tim.

Despite having Down syndrome, Robbie’s commitment to flagging for the polo team is unrivaled.

Robbie Zekany (center) is congratulated by his family and members of the Lancaster and Darlington polo clubs.

Being a flagger was often something for the teens to do to get involved with polo. For Robbie, it has been a 35-year passion, waving the flag and signaling for a goal.

Robbie’s fiery enthusiasm spreads quickly as he waves the flag up high when Lancaster scores. The crowd cheers, cars beep horns, and alarms sound wildly.

“All I have is love for Robbie,” said Mike Tracey, Lancaster Polo Club alumni. “He is a wonderful and warm human being,”

Tracey played alongside Robbie from 1980 to 2000.

“Robbie is always so accurate. It is a skill, and it can go so quickly,” remarked Annelise Reinhart, president of the Lancaster Polo Club (LPC). “He never loses his focus.”

“I started playing polo at Lancaster in 1988 when I was 16 years old,” she continued. “When I started playing, Robbie was already a fixture at LPC as a flagger, and his brother Tim was the club’s manager. Robbie has been flagging the upper goal for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall him missing any Sundays. He has always been very dedicated.”

“Robbie is very special to LPC, not only because of his commitment as a flagger but because of his wonderful spirit,” she said. “Robbie also has Down syndrome and his speech is extremely difficult to decipher. This obstacle is quickly averted by Robbie’s exuberance and expressions when he talks to you. He is always happy (except when his favorite NASCAR racer or sports team isn’t winning). He lights up your day with his big smile and bear hug when you say hello to him. I am honored that I have been around to get to know Robbie over the last 29 years.”

As the ceremony began, hundreds of spectators cheered, “Robbie! Robbie! Robbie!”

“Robbie represents what polo should be in this country,” declared Duncan Huyler, CEO of the USPA. “I am honored to be part of this ceremony.”

Huyler traveled from West Palm Beach, Fla., to present the certificate of entry to the U.S. Polo Association Walk of Fame to Robbie.

When he was younger, Robbie Zekany would ride his bike up and down the field hitting the ball.

He was presented with an embroidered director’s chair, Walk of Fame shirts (polo shirts, of course), and a framed certificate. Robbie is being honored with a commemorative brick in the Spirit of Polo section at the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame in Lake Worth, Fla. — USPA headquarters

“To me he is an inspiration to anybody,” said presenter Ric Hovsepian, who emceed the ceremony.

Hovsepian is a polo player who traveled from Santa Barbara, Calif., to be a part of the celebration. There was also an appearance from Jeff Young, well known for being on the professional path in polo prior an ankle injury. The event was a reunion of alumni and polo pros alike.

Tailgaters and fans spent the entire afternoon parked along the shaded tree line. Friends and families enjoyed cookouts, picnic-style, as each chukker unfolded.

McSherry explained that even 35 spectators was a sight to see. He helped achieve this by creating PASS — Polo Attendant Strategies and Solutions — which stemmed from a $50 budget he used to print free passes. He passed them around throughout Lancaster County to spread the word and bring in the crowd.

“Robbie’s dedication to the Lancaster Polo Club and to our sport is an inspiration to all of us at the USPA,” said Huyler. “We celebrate this amazing milestone and thank Robbie for his incredible efforts.”

On Sunday, Aug. 6, Lancaster Polo Club will host its second annual Bella Memorial Cup, in honor Bella, a beloved Argentine Polo Pony who passed away in 2015. Gates open at Forney Field at 1 p.m. for tailgating, and the match starts at 2:30. Learn more at lancasterpolo.org.

Sarah Hummer is a local freelance writer. She welcomes comments at hummersarahj@hotmail.com. Staff writer Melissa Hunnefield contributed to this story.

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