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Polo players win despite extra work, old facility
By Renu Sehgal
April 25, 1997
The women's polo team has won the national championship two years in a row without adequate facilities of its own.
The polo program is entirely funded through the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources' animal science department, contributions from the student government and donations. Students are charged $150 a semester to participate in the polo and equestrian programs to offset some costs.
The program is trying to raise money for a new indoor arena. So far, $500,000 of the $3 million needed has been raised.
The University's polo program began in 1969, organized by Hal Vita. The men's team won the national title in 1972, 1973 and 1974. The women's tournament began in 1976. Prior to 1995, when the UConn women won the title, the team's best showing was third place in 1985.
The program is known as a blue-collar program because students have always been involved in the hands-on care of the polo horses and facilities. The outdoor polo arena, built in the early 1970s, was constructed mainly with student and faculty labor.
For many years, students cared for the horses and did all the manual work. Now, student labor takes care of routine feeding and stall cleaning, but the team members still exercise and care for the polo horses and the arena on a day-to-day basis.
The varsity team members also help teach instructional polo classes offered to non-varsity and new members each semester. The program provides high school summer polo, intended to help recruit players.
The University competes against Cornell, Skidmore, Yale and Harvard in the eastern regional conference. There are three other regions in the country for a total of 20 schools who compete nationwide.
"We're the poor relations," said Jim Dinger, the womens' coach. "People say they play polo, so they must be millionaires, but that's not the case."
The team had to pay its own way to the tournament this year, including transportation, food and lodging. A snow storm last year ruined the department's Holiday Barn, which every year raises funds for the team. In 1996, the fund-raiser was able to garner enough money to pay the team's way.
Unlike its competitors, the University lacks an indoor polo arena, so the team cannot have home games or practices at UConn after December. The team uses space at Yale University and at Shallowbrook Equestrian Center in Massachusetts.
A new barn was built in 1990, and a new truck and horse trailer were added in 1992, but the arena facilities have remained the same for more than 20 years. The lack of facilities tacks on another six to eight hours for team members, who need to prepare the horses and travel to home games, Dinger said.
"It's very difficult to recruit players because we don't have an indoor arena," he said.
The home games UConn can have at Storrs are also contingent upon the weather, making it hard on the steadfast fans who fill the seats at every game.