The Wausau Hardwoods will compete in the North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championships July 28 to 30 after taking second place in the Great Lakes Regional Qualifier last weekend.
Wausau Bike Polo hosted sixteen Midwestern teams in two courts built just for the tournament. Those wooden arenas were set up Friday and taken down Sunday at the Eastbay Sports Complex on the far East end of Kent Street.
Squads of six took the court three at a time, pedaling after a street hockey ball with long aluminum mallets. The bike’s wheels can also push and maneuver the ball, but feet may not touch the ground. When that happens, the player must tap a wall before rejoining the fray.
“Don’t be a jerk,” is a key rule as this growing sport builds strong friendships alongside strong competition.
Despite losing 8-4 to the Hardwoods in an earlier match, Abracadabra emerged with the first place title after a burst of goals near the end of the final. That team of players from Cleveland, Indianapolis and Milwaukee will represent the Midwest alongside the Wausau team at the nationals near Washington, D.C. In July. The top U.S. Teams will compete at the world championships in Lexington, Kentucky this October.
How can a small town team compete at the top?
“They just want it more. And it’s beautiful,” said Rob Glatfelter, a Milwaukee player. “They’re putting a lot of effort into their training, into their practice back home, and they’re bringing that effort out on the court.”
It’s skill, talent and ferocity, Glatfelter said.
“Anytime there’s a loose ball, they are on it,” he said. “Anytime there’s a player recalled, they are on it. They don’t let anything go.”
Tomohiko Music, of Chicago, points to the Wausau team’s leadership as the key to the group’s success.
“They’re physical and they have the heart. They have Seth, who’s the local guy. He’s ready to mess stuff up,” Music said.
Music is referring to Seth Carlson, team captain and coordinator of the weekend tournament. Carlson said he knows prevailing against the other top six teams in the nation won’t be easy.
“They’re all very talented,” Carlson said, adding that competing against the best only makes everyone better. The entire local club is stronger because of this last tournament, he said.
“Hosting is a little leg work, but everyone involved appreciates it. Plus, it’s nice to sleep in your own bed,” Carlson said.
Community, competition and the thrill of riding bikes are just some of the reasons Carlson enjoys hardcourt bike polo. The game is based on traditional polo, played on horseback, where fatal injuries are not so rare. Bike players fall regularly and have the scrapes and bruises to prove it. An unrelated hand injury before the tournament put the sixth Hardwood, Trevor Williams, in the role of coach.
The far southern tip of Riverside Park is where the Hardwoods and their friends practice each Sunday at 4 p.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m.. That permanent court was built last year after members of the group approached the city parks and recreation department for help finding a permanent practice and play area. Their request was brought to the city council, which approved the request unanimously.