In Mankato, bike polo is the people’s game

I came across this story from the Mankato Free Press on the Associated Press about a week ago, but didn’t have time to read it until today.
The only bike competition I’ve seen that’s even more unusual was fictitious — the bike jousting scene in the Bill Murray movie, “Quick Change.”
Anyway, I hope enjoy this story as much as I did.

By Shane Frederick
The Free Press
MANKATO (AP) — Six makeshift mallets lean against the boards of the Stoltzman Road hockey rink on a spring night long after the ice melted away.
Made from old ski poles, plastic pipe and hockey tape, they sit in queue waiting for the next game. Six more of the multi-colored instruments wait in a cluster behind them.
Out on the rink, six people circle around the asphalt on bicycles. With one hand gripping the handlebar and brake and another clutching one of those homemade mallets, the riders battle over a small red ball in hopes of hammering it into a goal.
If polo is the sport of kings, bike polo might be the people’s game.
“It’s a do-it-yourself sport,” said Bruce Wahl, a member of the Blue Skunk Polo Club. Four years ago, about six people got together regularly to play bicycle polo in parking lots and ramps around Mankato. Just enough for a game.

In this May 17 photo, Zach Brooks is shadowed by Andy Dowd, left, and Sophie Kaeter as he brings the ball up the rink during a bike polo match at the Stoltzman Road rink in Mankato, Minn. (AP Photo/The Mankato Free Press, Pat Christman)

Nowadays, Thursdays at the Stoltzman rink draw as many as 20 players — and several more onlookers, The Free Press reports (http://bit.ly/JuEcRK). They begin showing up around 7 p.m. to queue up their mallets, and the games last until the lights go out at 10:30.
“It’s addicting,” Danielle Alinea said. “It’s a rush. I’m a competitive person, very competitive.”
Alinea watches as a game gets intense.
Players jockey for position along the walls.
They race to loose balls in the corners. A bike crashes to the pavement. A chain snaps.
Later, Wahl speeds down the middle of the rink and does his best Prince Charles and fires a windmill shot toward the goal. After scoring, he raises his mallet up to his lips and blows out an imaginary flame. “This is big for me,” Wahl said. “I’m 30, and I need an outlet for my competitive juices. Polo has done that for me.”
Outside the rink, it’s a little more mellow. Waiting players and friends lean on the boards, sip cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and cheer on the game. Music plays in the background, some Bob Dylan and oldschool country, as others tune up their bikes and fix their chains. Some nights there are cookouts.
“I watched for a really long time before I got forced into playing a game,” Sophie Kaeter said after pedaling out of the rink. “This was probably my 20th game this year. I love it. I’m hooked on it.”
The Blue Skunk group encourages men and women of all ages to try the sport. They think many will catch the bug just as Kaeter did.
“We always want new faces; we always want new players,” said Joe Rstom, who has been playing since 2009. “It was mostly bikers to start, but we take all kinds.”
Thursdays are open to anyone who wants to play.
Wahl and Rstom and other experienced players ride their single-speed bikes, modified specifically for bike polo play, alongside and against rookies on multi-geared cruisers and dirt bikes.
Any bike will do, Wahl said, as long as the handle bars are capped. Helmets are strongly encouraged (many regular players have facemasks attached to theirs). Players are happy to loan out mallets to the curious.

The experienced players take it easy on the newbies. But on Sunday nights, the veterans go all out, playing “high-octane,” “no-apologies” polo. Those games are intense but also prepare them for out-of-town tournaments.
“That’s for the hardcore,” Kyle DeGoey said.
Information from: The Free Press, http://www.mankatofreepress.com

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