Janice Binkley-Cole handed what looked like a makeshift lacrosse stick to Tristan Cole and watched her smiling 10-year-old son head onto a practice field. From the time he left the sideline until he returned about 10 minutes later, Tristan's feet never touched the ground.
That's because Tristan plays polocrosse, and in his sport, he doesn't walk, jog or run. He rides a pony.
Tristan faced a rather stiff challenge during Wednesday night's practice, though. He was the only player on a pony; everyone else on the field — ranging in age from 13 to 56 — was big enough to ride a horse.
Still, he was undeterred while playing the game that fits its name: It looks like lacrosse on horses. Tristan constantly chased the action aboard Cherokee, trying to scoop the ball and help his team score on the 8-foot-wide goal marked by two tall white sticks.
“That's the thing about kids, man — they don't care,” said Ryan Trueblood, the Bay Area Polocrosse Club coach and a former U.S. World Cup player. “They are fearless.”
Allowing youngsters to compete against adults is part of what makes the sport, and the 22-member Bay Area Polocrosse Club, special, Trueblood and club president Linda Harris said.
In polocrosse, players are ranked from the most highly skilled A Division down to the E Division, and they compete in their skill classification regardless of age. So when members of the Bay Area club compete in the tournament at Bucks County Polocrosse Club's ninth annual tournament in Warwick on Labor Day weekend, everyone will be able to play.
“It's really a family sport,” Harris, 52, said. “Before, when my daughter was doing pony club and other stuff, it was all about them riding. But in American polocrosse, you can be any age and play, so I started riding again and playing.”
The Bay Area Polocrosse Club practices twice a week on the field in Prince Frederick in Calvert County, and about once a month, it competes with the nearby Bucks County and Sugarloaf Mountain clubs. Most of the players own the horses the play on, so they bring them along for the competitions.
And once every few months, the group competes in a larger tournament, such as the one sponsored by the Bucks County club next week. The Bay Area club hosts a tournament, the Blue Crab Classic, each June, and members will travel to North Carolina in early October for a national tournament.
The driving force behind these tournaments is the camaraderie among the clubs.
“As competitive as it gets on the field, everybody gets off the field and hugs,” Trueblood said, “and gets together at night for a big dinner.”
There's also a common goal to get younger players, like Tristan, involved in the sport.
It's not all that difficult to pick up, Harris said. Each team has three players on the field at one time, each marked with a No. 1, 2 or 3 on his or her jersey. To ensure that the field isn't too congested, the player wearing No. 3 is the only offensive player allowed within 30 yards of goal. The players wearing No. 2 act like midfielders, and those with No. 1 are defenders.
Other than that — and, of course, the inclusion of horses — the sport resembles lacrosse. Players carry rackets that resemble conventional lacrosse sticks, and they scoop the ball and pass to teammates.
Jess Russell, a 15-year-old Calverton High student who used to play lacrosse, said there are plenty of similarities between the sports.
“There's cradling and picking up the ball and catching that are the same,” she said.
The lacrosse-specific skills helped attract Russell to polocrosse, as opposed to polo. Another difference between those two sports is that polocrosse also highlights the horse's skills.
Polocrosse players horse around with a variation to lacrosse
Riders young and old catching on to sport that was invented in Australia in the 1930s
Polocrosse combines elements of polo and lacrosse. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)