Two wheels, one mallet

Column by Zachary Willis. E-mail [email protected].

Kentucky is known for a variety of things, such as bourbon, Rand Paul and UK men’s basketball, but Lexington is becoming better known for something else.

There have been high-profile happenings in Lexington, such as the World Equestrian Games, (the first in the U.S.) an openly gay Mayor-elect and Boomslang Festival. Now Lexington is known for something else: hard-court bike polo.

Lexington hosted the first Open Midwest Tournament this past weekend. Fifty teams competed in the tournament, and close to 175 people from the Midwest region made the trek to UK’s home city.

Don’t know what hard-court bike polo is? Don’t worry, I’ll give you a primer.

Bicycle polo has been around for a while — it was invented by an Irishman in the early 1890s and was featured as an exhibition game in the 1908 London Olympics. Bicycle polo is like its cousin, Equine Polo, except bicycles are used instead of horses.

Hard-court bike polo is a new variation that exploded into worldwide popularity around 2007. Inner cities don’t often have the large grassy expanses used for traditional bicycle polo, so empty lots were used and materials and bikes were self-made. Bikes are often modified to be light, fast and tough. Polo mallets are usually made out of plastic piping and ski poles. Don’t let the similarities to traditional bike polo fool you though — hard-court more resembles street hockey on bikes, with teams of three jousting for a ball in a small space.

Lexington’s history of bike polo started in 2007. By request of the city, the polo players moved from

Woodland Park to the tennis courts at Coolavin Park. The tennis courts were modified and self-constructed court walls were put in. Lexington bike polo hosts a few tournaments a year, usually small tri-state affairs.

The first Open Midwest Tournament was easily the largest and most ambitious tournament hosted yet, and it went great.

Fifty teams from various cities from other states traveled to the Lexington area. Some teams came from as far away as Toronto, Canada, and a player from Sydney, Australia even competed in the tournament.

Although a hometown team didn’t place in the top three, a few all-Lexington teams did place in the top 10, and several teams with Lexington players were also in the top ten.

My team, a Lexington-Chicago-Pittsburgh trifecta didn’t place in the Sunday rounds, but all of our games were strong competitions. With this tournament, Lexington has risen as a city that not only can field strong teams (we even have some world-class talent) and drink lots of bourbon, but also as a regional trendsetter and powerhouse in the fast-growing, face-paced world of hard-court bike polo.