Not your grandpa's polo game

By Kristin Torres | Sept. 17, 2008

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Polo. Traditionally synonymous with cable-knit sweaters and Ivy League coifs, the classic sport is hardly fit for inner city paved basketball courts or parking garages. Take away the horses, add two wheels and some PVC pipe and things start to get a lot less stuffy.

Drew Deubner puts it this way: "We're all just big bike nerds."

Deubner, an MU junior, is a former MOVE staff member.

As bike polo clubs pop up all over the country and around the globe, it was only a matter of time before the game found a home in bike-friendly Columbia.

In fact, the game found two: the MU-sponsored Mizzou Bike Polo Association and Deubner's own brigade, which is currently unnamed.

"There's just not much of a necessity," Deubner says, though they casually go by COMOPOLO.

The clubs aren't particularly competitive. The mindset of the team, says MU junior Sean Coder, is just to have fun, especially since a team mentality is difficult to maintain when players - six to 10 on the court at a time - fluctuate so often.

Both clubs got their start earlier this year.

"We just kind of spontaneously came up at the same time," Coder says. "It just kind of happened that way."

There's no rivalry between the two clubs, Deubner says, just a few differences.

"The difference just lies in the different mallets obviously, and a different playing field, if you will."

MU's club plays on grass.

"We play on concrete or pavement," Deubner says. "And it's a different pace, too. It's like playing field hockey vs. ice hockey."

COMOPOLO has been playing together since February, practicing, playing and learning about the sport as they go along.

"We kind of just figured out how to play through the grape vine," Deubner says.

MU junior Charlie Hill had never played bike polo before jumping on board with COMOPOLO.

"I was just interested in bicycles, and I heard that people were playing bike polo and I decided to come out and try it and I had a lot of fun," he says.

Because bike polo is still relatively new, there has yet to be much of a market for the sport. That trickles down to everything from information on rules to mallets. Whereas the Mizzou Bike Polo Association purchased its mallets, Coder says COMOPOLO took a different approach.

"We made them ourselves," he says. "We found some directions on a Web site." With some ski poles, PVC pipe and a little creativity, the club solved the market problem.

The players hope the situation will change in the future.

"You can't exactly just walk into a store and ask 'Hey, can I have a bike polo mallet?'" Deubner says. "It's doesn't really happen like that."

Although they haven't been around for long, they've already participated in tournaments, including one in Chicago this past summer.

"That was quite an experience," Deubner says.

So how did they do? Coder laughs. "We had a good time," he says.

Tournaments can bring together beginner teams, ragtag teams and teams that have played for years. COMOPOLO had its work cut out for it, but the team managed to win a few games, Coder says.

"I had kind of an idea that we weren't going to be great," Deubner says. "We kind of turned out to not be super good."

Getting good takes practice. Sometimes that means getting trounced.

"There were some teams that just trounced all over everyone else," Deubner says. "Ourselves included."

But free stuff always softens the blow. Especially when you can eat it.

"There was free breakfast every day, though," Coder says.

In addition, they stayed with people they met through the tournament once they got to Chicago, saving them some money.

"It was a great experience, yeah. And it was pretty much free, too," Coder says with a laugh.

Coder, originally from Omaha, Neb., regained an interest in bikes when he came to MU in 2006 to study journalism. With bike culture alive and well in this little college town, Coder didn't have to look far for inspiration.

"Columbia really sparked my interest the most," he says. "There are so many people who ride their bikes."

Coming from a suburban hometown, Coder says that exposure to the bike scene was limited until he arrived in Columbia.

"I don't think I see anyone riding their bike for transportation there. It's kind of a thing where they put a bike on a car, take it to the trail, ride around, put the bike back on the car and go home," he says. "But maybe that's changing."

Now, Coder has two bikes, one for commuting and another especially for polo. But polo doesn't come without its bumps and bruises, Coder says.

"There's always going to be minor injuries," he says. "You know, people can get scraped up. They get scraped up or get hit in places that don't feel so good." But it's nothing too serious, he says.

"No one's had to seek medical attention other than a bandage."

For now, COMOPOLO plays on Sundays at Cosmo Park and on Wednesdays, well, somewhere else.

"It's undisclosed," Coder says.

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