By Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb for Grand Champions Polo Club
For her tireless efforts and dedication in junior polo, Melissa Ganzi of Wellington was presented the Polo Training Foundation’s Volunteer of the Year award at its recent banquet.
Established in 2000, the Volunteer of the Year Award is given to the individual who, through dedication and service, has made a major contribution to the activities of the PTF.
It was the first time Ganzi was honored by the PTF. The Grand Champions Polo Club president is secretary-treasurer of the PTF and longtime supporter. Her children Grant and Riley have grown up playing in PTF events.
“My children have been in the PTF since they were little kids
Melissa Ganzi starting in lead line and went through all the stages,” Ganzi said. “Watching them go through every milestone of the PTF, see them progress and knowing that the PTF was a big part of that is wonderful.”
Also honored was Gillian Johnston with the PTF Lifetime Benefactor Award. Ganzi and Johnston were surprised when the awards were announced. Both honors were kept secret.
“It was a huge surprise, I didn’t know about it until they announced it that evening,” Ganzi said. “I was really honored.
“Polo takes a tremendous amount of people,” Ganzi said. “You can’t do anything in polo by yourself. You need more than one individual.”
During the season, Johnston and Ganzi were tireless workers behind the scene for the PTF.
“Gil Johnston is a longtime supporter of the PTF especially the kids polo programs,” said PTF assistant executive director Jennifer Poor McLeavy. “She is a strong believer in training, especially with regards to horsemanship.
“With all the madness of the polo season in Wellington, I can always spot her gold jeep fieldside at every junior or youth game. She never misses a game.
“Melissa is such a strong intelligent woman, but it is her heart and willingness to give and help that truly inspires me. I cannot even begin to describe how much she does for junior and youth polo. She goes above and beyond to not only help continue the sport into the next generation but also ensure that all the players have fun every time.
“In a sport dominated by men, I am truly blessed to have these two women as role models,” McLeavy said.
Ganzi said competing in PTF events has become a tradition among polo players and families.
“There is also that historic component to the PTF,” Ganzi said. “There are pictures of Gonzalito Pieres playing in the Avendano Tournament and so many other players and families. The amount of players who have grown up through the PTF is unbelievable. They do a huge job of bringing people into the sport of polo.”
Youth players honored during the banquet were: Oliver Firestone and Elizabeth Fenner, Most Improved Junior Players; Zoey and Cipi Echezarreta, Sportsmanship Award; Grant Ganzi, Most Improved Youth Player and Wes Finlayson, Youth Sportsmanship.
Award presenters Gil Johnston, Gillian Johnston and Grand Champions host Melissa Ganzi with happy kids and awards. Photo by Scott Fisher.
Grand Champions is enjoying its role in helping to develop and promote youth polo by hosting a variety of junior tournaments throughout the year including the PTF Junior International Cup, WCT Juniors Invitational, Buzz Welker Memorial and providing horses, equipment and complimentary food truck catering.
Ganzi started The Polo School, a 501C 3 organization dedicated to teaching the sport of polo at Grand Champions and Aspen Valley Polo Clubs. Its’ mission is to provide all individuals, particularly youth, opportunities in polo.
Ganzi has pioneered several new programs in youth polo. She introduced ProKidz during the 2014 polo season. The concept of pairing a pro with juniors is to have some of the game’s best players mentor and nurture up-and-coming future players. The junior players’ ages vary and teams are matched evenly. The pros coach the players during the game. Top pros Miguel Novillo Astrada, Mike Azzaro and Juan Bollini have played.
Grand Champions has served as host club for several of the PTF’s exchange programs including New Zealand and England.
In January 2014 at Grand Champions Polo Club, Ganzi ushered in the use of Chukker.TV, now the leader in polo broadcasting worldwide. Chukker.TV introduced instant replay and team challenges with state-of-the-art technology.
In addition to live streaming junior tournaments for the first time in PTF history, Chukker.TV just completed its first season of live streaming all high goal polo games including the U.S. Open at International Polo Club Palm Beach. Chukker.TV has also live streamed various Grand Champions Polo Club games and tournaments around the country. It offers re-broadcasts, Video On Demand and player interviews.
Chukker.TV also partnered with Roku, Inc. to bring polo to fans live in the comfort of their homes at no cost. Chukker.TV has a channel on Roku.
Ganzi is the first woman in the southeast United States to be named USPA’s Florida Circuit Governor and serves on the Board of Delegates and marketing committee.
The PTF is led by Executive Director Danny Scheraga, McLeavy, Chairman Richard Riemenschneider; President Tony Coppola; and Vice President Gil Johnston.
Honorary PTF Directors are George Alexander, Jr., Daniel Calhoun, Jr., Karlene Beal Garber, Orrin Ingram, Jesse Upchurch and Eugene Burk, Lyn Jason Cobb, Bob Daniels, Glen Holden Sr., Jesse Pruitt, Thomas Sikes, Lynn Thompson, John Walsh, Ian Angus, Joseph Kozlik, Stephen Orthwein, Russell Sheldon, Jim Zenni, Jr., Robert Donahey, Duncan Huyler, Joseph Meyer and Clifford Sifton.
2015 POLO ON DEMAND
Grand Champions Polo Club, featuring five world-class fields, has a full schedule of tournaments from January through May. Let our polo experts create a turn-key experience including top pros to bring out the best in you and your team. Lessons are available.
April 24-26, USPA Spring Challenge; April 30-May 3, USPA Sun Cup; May 7-10, USPA Eastern Challenge; May 14-17, Polo Gear Challenge Cup; May 21-25, The Memorial; May 24-25, USPA NYTS; May 28-31, Santa Rita Memorial.
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.