I thought I had retired from athletic pursuits after my failure to make any, repeatany, sports team ever. That’s why I’m still not sure why I agreed to check out the Pedal Republik of Cleveland, a city bike polo league — especially after learning it would require my ... ahem ... participation.
My husband considered the task a death trap. I considered training wheels, especially after Brian Griggs, a Pedal Republik regular, described his first game to me:
“I was terrible. I crashed a couple of times and didn’t score any goals,” he says.
But return he did. During the last few years, the Republik has morphed from a nomadic crew to a competitive league with a dedicated court in Cleveland and participation in tri-state tournaments. Every Sunday morning, bikers in he-capris converge on hoopty bikes from both sides of the Cuyahoga to chase a roller hockey ball (plastic and about the size of a tennis ball) with mallets (an ingenuous T made from a ski pole screwed perpendicularly to a cylinder of ABS pipe).
The rules of the game fit on a bar napkin: Start with a 3-on-3 faceoff and continue until one team scores 5 points or 10 minutes pass. No feet on the ground. No fouls. No penalty box. No huddles.
“Contact is OK,” advises Alex Kidd, Regular No. 2. “Light contact: mallet-to-mallet, body-to-body, bike-to-bike. But you can’t hit somebody with your mallet.”
“If someone plays dirty, the best thing is to play dirty back,” says Kidd.
The Republik welcomes bikers of any skill level, as long as they’re 18 or older. Though heckling inevitably replaces the graciousness they show neophytes, it’s easy to see why the group draws 15 to 20 regulars every week — lively competition, a blaring boom box and a cooler of Miller High Life that opens at 11:58 a.m., sharp. Mostly, the regulars enjoy biking, and polo offers an excuse to do so.
Even I had fun ... in my first game. No wipeouts, only a handful of Looney Tune moments and a hit that would have scored if only the goal posts were spaced 10 feet wider. Unfortunately, in a Brett Favre moment, I agreed to just one more game, during which I somehow scraped off a chunk of my thumb as I tried to hit the ball. Not your typical bike injury.
In an attempt to manage the gusher, I held up my thumb and queried a teammate:
“Hey, do you happen to have any ... ?”
“No,” he responded.
So I finished the game trailing blood like breadcrumbs all over the court. But as it turns out, being The Girl With the Bloody Finger did give me some bike polo cred. The other players were confounded by such an odd injury, but several hooted in exultation; some took pictures. Before I left the court, one even tweeted, “We made the newslady bleed!”
Thus signaled my retirement from bike polo. And sports. I think for good this time.
I suspect they will hang my blood-coated mallet on the fence, so stop by for a look-see and join a pickup game while you’re at it. Harold T. Clark tennis courts by the Municipal Building on South Marginal Road. Sundays, 11-ish. Beer welcome.
Visit www.myspace.com/cleveland_polo for more information about the Pedal Republik of Cleveland.