By Regina Varolli
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A year-old group of women is championing the sport of polo and chasing down money for scholarships for female college athletes interested in the "sport of kings." Annual costs for participating can run into tens of thousands, making it an expensive pursuit for women who don't often get the chance to play pro.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Members of the year-old Polo Girls Society recently rode into town for a photo shoot before heading out to the Hamptons for a fundraising event.
"More than ever before, more girls and women are playing polo, more people are showing up to watch women's polo matches and more places are hosting women's tournaments," Elizabeth "Libby" Scripps, the group's 28-year-old founder, said in a recent interview in Battery Park.
The group's schedule of fundraising, recruiting and promotion keeps the same sporadic schedule of the sport itself. Tournaments are largely dictated by the season and team players get assembled and switched around for different tournaments.
The game is played on horseback by mallet-wielding teams of four and is one of the few sports where teams can be made up of both men and women.
Florida's polo season begins in the winter and ends in late spring. In Santa Barbara, Calif., it goes from early spring to late fall. In Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, it's a strictly summer sport.
The Polo Girls Society, based in Palm Beach, Fla., aims to promote the male-dominated sport to college-age women. It is starting out with the modest goal of raising two $2,000 academic scholarships in 2011 for two female college polo players. Candidates will be nominated by polo team coaches at the 40 U.S. universities that offer the sport. Recipients must have a 3.0 grade point average, good attendance in class and be active members of a collegiate polo team.
With fundraising events taking place on some key polo grounds--Saratoga, N.Y.; the Hamptons on Long Island; Washington, D.C; Los Angeles; and Palm Beach, Fla.--the organizers hope to raise enough to expand the number of awards in coming years.
At the professional level, men far outnumber women in the sport, as seen in the roster of team players at championship tournaments. In the 2010 USPA Piaget Gold Cup, for example, only one woman played out of 10 teams of four players--Melissa Ganzi of team Piaget. Ganzi was also the only woman in nine teams at the 2010 U.S. Open of polo, again a member of team Piaget. At England's premier tournament, the Veuve Cliquot Gold Cup, no women played on any of the 20 participating teams in 2010.
The Polo Girls hope to change these numbers by boosting women's participation at the college and professional levels.
The group wants to attract sponsors who can help pay for the development of a professional polo team for its members. Travel expenses, horse transportation or rental and tack can cost players tens of thousands a year.
"As a woman, you only make about $1,000 to $2,000 per game, so it's pretty much unheard of for women to be full-time professionals," said Scripps. "For the guys, the pros can make $100,000 per season and play more than one season a year when they travel."
By Regina Varolli