‘Cardiac Kid’ returns for polo opener New season begins at Forney Field in Rothsville

By on June 15, 2011

By: LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Photos by Laurie Knowles Callanan
Sunday's polo match in Rothsville between Lancaster and Delaware was cut short due to lightning. At the time, Lancaster was winning, 5-3.Photos by Laurie Knowles Callanan
Sunday's polo match in Rothsville between Lancaster and Delaware was cut short due to lightning. At the time, Lancaster was winning, 5-3.

A bolt of lightning put an end to the opening game of the 71st season of the Lancaster Polo Club on Saturday, June 12, but that didn’t end the festivities for the fans.

"Most of them took cover from the rain and stayed until nearly 7 p.m.," reported team manager Ken McSherry. "Despite the weather, we had a great opening day."

The Lancaster Polo Club had just scored 5 points to Delaware’s 3, when the previously sunny skies began to darken. The rain wouldn’t have stopped the game, noted McSherry. But when a big bolt of lightning hit at the empty end if the polo field, organizers took it as a sign from above and stopped play at half-time.

"We just couldn’t take the chance," said McSherry.

Still, it was a fun day for those who attended the first game of the 2011 season, which runs from June through October at the Warwick Polo Field in Rothsville, also known as Forney Field. The game was a three-on-three contest, with three players each from the Lancaster and Delaware teams.

One Lancaster player was especially noteworthy. Last year John Moran had left the polo field in an ambulance. On Sunday, he was out in full force, striking the ball with his mallet and helping his team score.

A year ago, he suffered a sudden heart attack during a game. Fortunately, a young ER nurse from New Jersey was just feet away from Moran when he collapsed. She was able to perform CPR until the Rothsville Ambulance arrived and used their defibrillator to restore his heartbeat. He was rushed to Lancaster General Hospital where he was revived once more, before having surgery.

"It was great to see John back in the saddle," said McSherry. "We were all very concerned about him last year."

For Moran, participating in the opening game was proof that you can’t keep a polo player down.

"I was happy to be back," he said, having now earned the nickname "Cardiac Kid."

Lightning and homecomings aside, the recent stormy weather nearly put a damper on opening day all together, admitted McSherry. When he showed up on Saturday to prepare for the first match, he was taken aback by what he saw. The field was muddy with tall grass and tree branches scattered throughout.

"When I drove up, I almost turned right around and went home," he said.

That’s when about 35 polo "angels" showed up to put the clean-up on a fast track. They mowed the overgrown grass and weeds, cleaned up tree branches, set up the track barriers, put up the tents and concession stands, set up the announcer’s booth and arranged tables and chairs. By evening, the field was in tip-top shape, although heavy rain did some damage to the tent.

By Sunday, the hardworking club members and friends had fixed up any damage from Saturday’s storms and the opening day for polo was ready to begin under sunny skies. That didn’t last long, but the tailgaters were still having fun.

"We have been coming out for about four years," said Jeanette Lamson. "It’s a family tradition."

That tradition included a birthday party for her mother, Phyllis Uriondo, and the rest of the family, with sister-in-law Annette Uriondo and daughter Rachel Lamson getting the birthday cake and party food ready for everyone.

Angie and Richard Lockerby of York come to the polo games several times a year, and this year they brought their neighbor Nick Szabo, for whom Lancaster polo was a first. The Lockerbys used to watch polo when they lived in St. Louis. So, when they moved to Pennsylvania, they discovered that the sport was being played in nearby Rothsville.

"We have been coming ever since," said Richard.

Joanne and Mark Saunders of Exeter Township, near Reading, are other regulars who have been coming to the Lancaster Polo Club for 10 years. Chris and Becky Hager of Manheim Township have been coming for about five years, even before their two boys Christopher and Nate were born.

"We grew up around horses and our sons just love watching polo. It’s a fun family day," said Becky.

For Leroy and Pat Heller of Lebanon Bible Fellowship, it was a first. Pastor Heller gave the invocation and prayed for good weather, which lasted for the first half of the game. He said that he was looking forward to coming back.

The Hellers were among those learning the rules of a game that is often associated with royalty, and McSherry was kind enough to explain. As he noted, the polo match consists of three or four players on each team, playing six chukkers, or periods, that last seven and a half minutes. The horses and players take a break in between each chukker, changing horses, then take a longer half-time break after the third chukker.

The game is played on a field with goal posts on each end. The players try to hit the ball between the posts to score one point. It gets a little confusing, but after each goal, the teams switch sides. Two mounted umpires accompany the players to make calls. The whistle is blown to indicate a foul, which stops the clock. Then they are back, racing up and down the field, with mallets in hand.

In between the chukkers, the fans go out on the field and stomp down any divots that have been caused by the horses. Tradition has it that even Queen Elizabeth II does divot-stomping at matches she attends in England.

The Lancaster Polo Club got started 71 years ago by Lancaster County cattle dealers who were challenged to a polo game by a team from York New Salem. The four bought mallets and helmets, enlisted the coaching services of Charles Little and practiced at the old Lancaster Fairgrounds.

They unexpectedly won that first match. It was the birth of the Lancaster Polo Club.

For many years, they played at a field that is now Overlook Golf Course. When one of the four, Ben Forney, built a field on his farm in Rothsville in 1956, they had a new place to play. Over the years, Forney kept polo ponies at his farm, many rescued from the New Holland auction. Through the years Forney Field hosted teams from the Dominican Republic, Canada, California, Texas and all along the eastern seaboard.

Forney was so dedicated to the sport of polo that he played well into his 80s and was featured in Sports Illustrated as America’s oldest active polo player. When Forney died in 1988 at age 84, part of his farm was sold. The polo field remained, and several years ago Warwick Township renovated the fields to keep Forney’s legacy alive.

Admission to the Sunday afternoon polo matches is $5 per person or $15 per car. The field is located off Church Road, and gates open at 1 p.m., with matches at 2:30 p.m.

There is a concession stand selling food and beverages adjacent to the Chukker Club, while many people bring their own food and beverages.

During the season, there are several special events, like the Taste of Britain MG Cup, with British cars lining the sidelines, and the Work to Ride benefit match.

Patrons and Chukker Club members make donations for special privileges and the honor of keeping the sport alive in Rothsville. The board of directors includes Beth Brown, Chris Mohn, Ken McSherry, Mike Mohn and Randy Robitzer.

Patrons include Martha Aierstuck, Duncan Alderson, Isabel Lark, Brenda Coakley, Prima Design, George Beech, Jill Edwards, Mary Ann Brockie, Robert and Karen Cherrie, Dennis Craig, Joanne Saunders, Ted and Jane Dzubinski, Jeff Eberly, Susan Atkins Joel and Sandra Gaddy, James Hagelgans, Gale Zorian, Bob and Aileen Hamilton, Hinkle Insurance Agency, William and Susan Kunkle, Kevin and Jeanette Lamson, John and Amber Lizak, Judy Mentzer, Phillip Miles, Bob and Doline Mohn, Lisa and Scott Morrison, Tom and Nancy O’Conor, Tom O’Connor, Marji Warrell, Richard and Janet Oliver, Jeffrey Owen, Glen and Toni Quinn, Howard and Kelly Scarff, Susan Stapleton, Mark Stickler, James Teller and John Troutman.

To find out more, check the website at lancasterpolo.org. More POLO, page A26

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