SWINGERS Harvard and Cornell go at it.
It's a beautiful day for polo at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. The sky is clear. The sun is bright. The grass is green and fragrant. And just after 2 pm, visiting players from Harvard and Cornell thunder down the URI athletic field on shining horses, with wooden mallets raised high as they chase a tumbling white ball.
The announcer for today's inaugural URI Fall Polo Classic — a scholarship fundraiser touted as the first polo game on a regulation field in Rhode Island in over a century — is standing on the roof of the Julian's Restaurant bright red Omnibus on the sideline. Down below, workers are dishing out pulled pork sandwiches and "Killer Nachos" while, a short walk away, a truck from Haven Bros. is offering — probably the first time at a polo match, anywhere — its famed "Garbage Plate": a heap of French fries, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, hamburger meat, and chili-cheese sauce.
But while today's fans in pastels and creased khakis are smiling, there's a problem: nobody seems to know the rules. "It's neat to watch, but we have no idea what's going on," Janet Crawford says. A self-described "equine artist," she is standing inside the VIP tent next to her oil paintings of horses jumping and posing stoically. She proudly points to a portrait of a Providence Police Mounted Command horse named Cricket. Nearby, the clothing designer Kiel James Patrick — wearing a plaid shirt, green pheasant-pattern tie, and pink pants — doesn't know much about the rules, either. But he does know that his sailing-inspired belts, bracelets, and bags are a hit with the polo demographic. "It's a coastal community that we're selling to," he says.
The awareness doesn't deepen all that much outside the white picket fence surrounding VIP seating. A group of URI undergrads tells me that the football team is playing away at Syracuse, so the gang stopped by after checking the rules on Wikipedia. One young lady says it's about "being preppy and having a good time." "You've just gotta hit it through the posts," someone adds. "It looks very dangerous," another says.
Even Patty Nichols, an officer with the Providence Police's Mounted Command unit, isn't quite sure how the game works. She came out in support of her friend, Sgt. Steve Courville, the polo fanatic and tireless organizer behind the event; it was Nichols and her partner, James Famiglietti, who held the US and Rhode Island flags during today's national anthem. Today's trip is a fun break from riding through city streets, she says. "We have some of the larger festivals and if people have too much to drink and get a little rowdy — you can have, sometimes, over a thousand people that are really whoopin' it up — then the horses are just worth their weight in gold."
At halftime, I catch up with the sergeant himself. He is pacing the playing field with other spectators, looking for torn sections of turf. Replacing divots at halftime is a time-honored polo tradition, he says. "We're going to come over here — see this? — and stamp it down so the ball doesn't bounce when it hits it."