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SKANEATELES JOURNAL — Recreation — Skaneateles lucky to be part of upholding
‘Sport of Kings’
Among the many wondrous gems in our backyard here in Skaneateles, we are
most fortunate to behold an event exclusive enough to be called the “Sport
of Kings.” For those who have attended a polo match on a Sunday afternoon
at the grassy field on Andrews Road in Skaneateles, few could forget the
sound of thundering hooves stomping the earth. Yet despite its growing
popularity, many are not familiar with the evolution of the game and its
migration and origination to this country and our area.
The exact origin of polo, the oldest team sport, is unknown. However, we
do know that it was probably first played by nomadic warriors more than
2,000 years ago. The first recorded polo tournament was in 600 B.C.
Participants spanned the glob from Constantinople to Baghdad, from Persia
to Japan. Throughout history, right up into the 1900s, the Sport of Kings
was used to train soldiers for war.
In 1876, a man named James Gordon Bennett imported polo from England. At
the time, the game was played with eight or more players. Later, in 1890 a
few gentlemen, including H.L. Herbert, John Cowdin and Thomas Hitchcock,
formed what is now known as the United States Polo Association (USPA).
This association was formed to standardize the rules and regulations of
the sport as well as to establish skill levels know as handicaps. In 1890,
seven clubs joined the association, headquartered in New York. Soon,
handicaps were assigned to members, including the likes of future
President Teddy Roosevelt.
Today, there are more than 134 active polo clubs in the USPA. Currently,
the highest level of polo is played in Argentina, the United States and
Of the many participants known to the Skaneateles Polo Club, none is more
impressionable than Dwight Winkleman, the person credited for having
cultivated the sport here near our glacial lake. Winkleman, who owned an
airstrip, used it to expedite the first polo match in the 1960s. He, along
with the handful of members that initially made up the Skaneateles Polo
Club — including Peter and Cappie Winkleman, Ed Bowers and John O’Neal —
teamed up to play in the inaugural match on the a field that still remains
today as the practice field.
The long stretch of pristine grassy field where the matches are played
today was built in 1968, and the first tournament was played on it in
1969. In 1970, David Chase became president of the Skaneateles Polo Club
and became a large advocate of the growing sport. And grow it did — polo
is played all over our local and extended region including Cortland,
Tully, and as far as Toronto. In the winter, David Eldridge heads up and
coaches a winter indoor arena polo program at Cornell University in Ithaca,
and Skaneateles club members and others take part.
Today our local Club attracts people from all over the world. Expect to
see club pro Cesar Jimenez, native to the Dominican Republic, launch a
ball from one end of the field to the other with a single stroke of his
mallet. It’s not unlikely to catch Skaneateles Club member John Walsh,
known for his crime-fighting show, “America’s Most Wanted,” along with his
sons Hayden and Cal, and pro Max Secunda, whose team is known as Shamrock
Polo. Byron Wilson another club member, comes all the way from Midland,
Texas, to participate in our summer games.
As it stands, the torch has been handed over to Marty Cregg, club
president and proprietor of the Skaneateles Polo Field. (He is also the
son-in-law of the late Chase.) Cregg continues to foster the tradition of
the Sunday games, as well as the sport itself, and works diligently to
continue its growth. Cregg is currently the president of the Museum of
Polo and Hall of Fame, located in Florida. He encourages those interested
in the game of polo or its history to visit the website at www.polomuseum.com.
Skaneateles Polo is played every Sunday on Andrews Road (weather permitting)
at 3:00 p.m. through August.