24. “This is my last piece of paper and my last bike,” he announces. That doesn’t include any of the bikes earned through the build-a-bike program.
For years the workshop has been a kind of sanctuary, but now bike polo on Thursdays is another draw for the kids. The game provides a constructive challenge for kids to focus their energy and attention. While the youth of southeast Bakersfield may be by disadvantaged by most standards, they have taken to polo with uncanny ease. Many have been riding bikes around since they were in diapers, and most are virtually fearless and instinctively competitive.
“Those are the kids that are always on their bikes and like riding bikes because that’s all they have. They’re busy working on their bikes and working on their handling,” Orozco says.
While children from low-income communities have taken to polo like fish to water, others have not been as responsive. “We go to schools in the nicer areas and kids hop on bikes and they do not know how to ride one at all. All they’re used to is the sidewalk, and being in their neighborhood, 30 yards around their house. You would think that the more upper class kids would be more accustomed to riding bikes and have more fun with it, and they are the ones that actually hate it,” says Orozco.
Even the stigma associated with bikes seems to foster a heightened interest in the game. “It makes it even more successful to bring bikes to a higher place with these kids,” he says of taking their idea of a transportation tool and turning it into a sport that involves skill and strategy.
Kids find out about bike polo through their school, their parents, or by passing through the park on their way home from school. “The schools are very cooperative with Bike Bakersfield because the kids love us. If you do it in the afterschool program and you have your own polo stuff—a few mallets and some cones—then the kids can bring their own bikes. Almost always guaranteed those kids will be willing to participate.”
While getting the schools, park administration, and kids on board were all easily accomplished, the program is not without its share of challenges.
“When we first came out here we got no respect from anybody,” Orozco recalls. “The intimidation factor is the number one thing. Those kids grow up think-