Lafayette bike polo club embraces inclusivity of sport
LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — When players in the Lafayette Bike Polo club wipe out or wreck their bikes, there isn’t any heckling or cruel barbs; there’s concern and then, when injuries have been assessed, commendation for effort and commitment.
You can find the Lafayette Bike Polo players practicing in the evenings at Shamrock Park throughout the year, shouting encouragement from the court or sidelines and whirling around on their bikes in seemingly daredevil moves.
Bike polo is pretty much what it sounds like, a bastardization of the game played originally on horseback, with mallets and a tiny ball, that has traditionally been a pastime of America’s elite. Except for the fact that bike polo is played on bikes, of course, in parks around the country, and there definitely isn’t anything elite about it.
On the contrary, the central tenet of bike polo is that everyone is welcome to participate.
“Inclusivity, that’s the whole mentality across the country, actually around the globe, for bike polo,” Tyler Sherman said. He’d been playing the sport locally for seven years. “Every club has that as their pillar to success. You have to be welcoming. That’s rule number one.”
For a long time, Sherman said, the club sport wasn’t all that diverse. Recently, however, there has been an increase in interest and participation, especially from women.
Carmen Trapp said she’d seen the team practicing, witnessed a few games, but wasn’t sure about getting on a bike to play. Eventually, however, she was convinced. Since her first game, Trapp said, she hasn’t been able to stop.
“It was a lot less scary than I’d built it up to be,” she said. “From the first time I played I was hooked.”
That seems to be a common theme.
Emily Hardy joined the Lafayette club several months ago, and said she was addicted to the sport from her first game.
Hardy has skated in roller derby competitions for nine years, and she said in many ways the sports compare.
“I was drawn to it because it’s similar in terms of culture, people and environment to roller derby,” Hardy said. “I feel like it’s a little underground . and just like roller derby it’s challenging and challenges your body in ways that feel really good.”
Both women said, however, it wasn’t just the physical challenge that drew them to bike polo and kept them coming back, it was the atmosphere created by the club and its members.
“Everybody is welcome. Any person that comes doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing but everyone is so encouraging, giving you tips, giving you space to grow. It keeps you coming back,” Hardy added.
And, both women said, the sport is so empowering.
“It’s a good workout,” Trapp said. “There are these bursts of speed and then you chill out for a while. I’m racing guys that are way more experienced than me and bigger than me.”
Sherman said bike polo teams are historically coed, inviting and recognizing the strengths that come from having a healthy mix of players with a diversity of backgrounds.
Recently, Trapp said, the Lafayette Bike Polo club has been making more of an effort to appeal directly to what polo players call the “WTF” community. That stands for women, trans and femme.
The Lafayette club now holds practices specifically for this population, hoping the effort will encourage more people who are shy about organized sports, yet curious about bike polo, to come out and give it a try.
It takes six players to stage a match, Trapp said, and at the first WTF practice exactly six people showed up, which, she added, felt like a huge victory.
Sherman said once the weather improves he thinks those numbers will increase even more.
Lafayette Bike Polo currently boasts around 20 regular members, but it’s looking to expand, with hopes of playing more games and joining more regional tournaments as it grows.
Troy Chairez said it’s an exciting time for the team, which is at the largest he’s ever seen it since picking up the sport two years ago.
“We barely even had six players two years ago when I started,” Chairez said. “And we’ve had more female players than we’ve ever had.”
All the players, however, confirmed that this growth won’t come at the sacrifice of the sport’s core principals of acceptance and inclusivity.
“Inclusivity’s always been a rule as long as I’ve been a part of it and it always will be,” Sherman said.