The Toughest Ladies in Sport
The annual women’s tournament is gaining a reputation as one of the best events in bike polo.
On a warm sunny afternoon in July ‘09, Polly Nomial, Shannon Frey and I were knocking the ball around the old court at Grandview in Vancouver BC. Patricia Cournoyer stopped by on a break from work and watched us from the grassy knoll outside the tennis fence. Shannon was pretty new to polo and we were trying to encourage more women to play, but a ladies night never really took off. Neither did a beginner night.
There had been some discussion among the women of Cascadia about being passed over for tournament teams and concerned about how bike polo was moving away from fun, weekend tournaments to more serious competitions. We didn’t want women to lose out on this new wave of polo and wanted to create a place for them to feel welcomed.
We batted around a few ideas and finally I said, “Fuck it. Let’s have an all women’s tournament.” The ladies were all game and in two months we pulled it off having it as a one-day tournament on the Friday before the newly named East Van Crown. The tournament was heavily populated by Cascadia women, but we had players travel from as far as New York City and Ottawa to round out the nine team compliment. Originally I had envisioned it as an informal throw in tournament, but women had already formed teams and it would have been hard to convince them otherwise. We had minimal prizes, and even made mallets for one team. The girls from New York, Cecily Upton and Fiona Ryan, were so excited that they immediately agreed to host the second installment of the Ladies Army tournament.
However, Ladies Army wouldn’t exist without the amazing support of all the men in our communities. They help us run the brackets, referee, organize, serve food, provide courtside maintenance, etc. This enables us women to concentrate on our games and getting to know each other better and build camaraderie, the likes of which exists no where else in the poloverse. In fact, “Ladies Army” was originally suggested by my boyfriend at the time as a team name for what became my first Ladies Army team. We thought it was too good of a name not to have some longevity as it embodied what I dreamed would one day happen in every polo city in the world, in effect, an army of women players, the Ladies Army.
The Ladies Army is not popular with everyone. There are debates online about the gender divide some perceive it is creating; that it is pushing women out of the regular coed game of polo. I believe those people miss the point of the tournament. It’s meant as a friendly get together and it is not associated with the competitive tournament calendar of North American Hardcourt (NAH), the regulating body of bike polo in this section of the world.
There are a small number of women who want this gender divide, though no one has personally expressed this directly to me. I lament the day this might happen, that a gender divide might rip the welcoming and inclusiveness of this coed sport apart. I fear this, because Ladies Army is working, it is doing what we dreamed it would do. It is getting women excited about bike polo