September 27, 2011

Work to Ride

This program teaches Philly teens to play the "sport of kings."

Justin: On the streets of a big city like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, you are more likely to find teens who play sports like football or basketball. Now, you can add polo. It is called the sport of kings, and it looks something like a combo of horseback riding and hockey. And it is changing the lives of some inner-city teens.

Here on Viola Street in west Philadelphia, a lot of kids grow up with three strikes against them: absent fathers, a crummy neighborhood and few positive outlets.

“All that negativity and all that violence.”

Justin: Kareem Rosser knew the odds weren’t good.

Kareem Rosser: I had no idea what was going to get me out. But, immediately, when I found the stable, I knew that was my departure.

Justin: When Kareem was just eight years old, he joined Work to Ride, a non-profit horse stable founded by Lezlie Hinter. For fifteen years, Leslie has been making kids a deal: volunteer around the stable and you can ride the horses. And if you are really adventurous, you can play the sport of kings — polo.

“We’re the only inner-city, african-american polo team in the country!”

“I didn’t even know what polo was. I never even heard the word. I knew nothing about polo.”

“Ralph Lauren Polo. That’s all I knew about polo.”

Justin: Aside from the cologne, polo is also a sport that dates back thousands of years. It originated in Persia, which is now Iran, and through the years became the sport of choice for the wealthy and powerful around the world.

But it is not the wealthy and powerful that make up the team at Work to Ride. Instead, there is Captain Kareem, his younger brother Daymar, and their neighborhood friend Brandon. They compete in the official Polo Association High School League, where again they have three strikes against them: their practice field’s a rundown baseball diamond, they have old equipment, and their polo ponies are rejects from the race track.

“We practice on some of the worst horses.”

Justin: Lezlie says these strikes have made it hard for her teams to win.

Lezlie Hinter: Just spanked us, week after week after week…”

Justin: But after years of losing week after week after week, they actually won a game! And since then they have only gotten better.

“We are so ambitious, and we want it.”

Justin: Kareem and company kept at it. And, believe it or not, the Work to Play team made it to the national championships this year!

Lezlie: They played so smart.  These kids can read each other like a book.

Justin: The boys from west Philly took the trophy, becoming the first all-black team to win the National High School Polo Championship, proving that unless you are playing baseball, three strikes doesn’t have to mean you are out.


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