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For the Love of the Game

Richmond bike polo players travel seven hours to swing their sticks in New York’s Pit.

By Krista Carlson

Photos by Doug Dalrymple,

“Body up on him! Body up on him!” The excited cry echoes from the sidelines at The Pit, New York’s informally designated bike polo court. On the concrete court, six players weave and sweep across the large open courtyard vying for possession of the ball. As Ace contends with an opponent and the two all but tangle, his teammates on the bench urge him to muscle the man in the way, well, out of the way.

Body-to-body is one of three legal forms of contact in bike polo, a co-ed game that mimics traditional polo with urban equipment in an urban setting. Bike-to-bike and mallet-to-mallet are also legal (within some sort of reason); the general term is “like-to-like contact”—so when one player’s bike cuts off another; or the tubular metal mallet shafts smack against one another and lock together as two players cross, it’s fair play.

“You got time!” a teammate on the bench calls out once, twice, three times. He’s letting his man know that he’s far enough from his opponents to take a moment to calculate his next move and ready his shot. It’s a game of inches and split-second decisions, where speed and control play equally important roles.

On this particular Sunday, the energy is higher than normal, in an arena where the sweat and adrenaline already pour out heavy on a regular day. Eight Richmond players have endured a seven-hour trek to face off against New York’s A-line in the NY Menace Minor, a bench minor format competition.

The bench minor format differs from traditional bike polo games in that teams are comprised of anywhere from six to nine players who rotate on and off the court, rather than fixed teams of three. There are still only three players per team on the court at all times, but the rotation format allows for longer games: Rather than playing to five points or 10-15 minutes, these bench games consist of two 20-minute periods with a 10-minute halftime; teams battle it out to score as many goals as possible.

Competition is more intense in these games where the players need not be so concerned with endurance and reserving energy; rather they can play their hardest in short bursts and then rotate out. The format has become more popular recently, being employed to carry out larger scale events such as the Chicago Bench Minor II in June, the second bench-style event to carry out a nationwide draft, effectively establishing cream-of-the-crop teams combining players from all regions, as well as the more localized Menace Minor, pitting city-based teams against one another. Similar events are being implemented across the different regions of North America and other parts of the world as well.

“Come back, Chombo! Come back!” Adam “Menace” shouts from the New York’s bench zone, which is really just a ramp leading onto the court. Three players from each squad are on the court at any time, while the rest of the team stands anxiously at the sidelines, acting as extra eyes on the game while they await the moment that they will be sent out onto the court.