A sad end to a good man.
Rick Sears encouraged me to write, play music and had my back on all occasions. We were thrown out of the Plaza Hotel in New York, banned from playing music in a Key West Hotel and rode a horse in a Palm Beach restaurant. You could mention Rick Sears anywhere in polo and get a smile. He was a big, kind, redneck of a man that brought so many friends together. The perfect anti-hero of two indie movies made for a charity, he reined hell on big egos and in his prime was a hell of a polo player.
This is something I posted on social media when Rick died. I apologize to his family and his friends for not writing sooner. But as far as polo goes there’s more to the story as Rick ascended to be an unbeatable force for years as the Captain of Windswept polo team in Florida and the head of the USPA Umpire program.
Rick was born in Ohio but when he was young his mother Nancy moved Tim and Rick to Lake Worth Florida. As a kid Rick grew up a fishing riding his bike and playing Little League Baseball. With little money in the home Rick walked barefoot through the woods and across the Binger field at Gulfstream Polo Club and took a job cleaning Tony Coppola’s stalls. Soon Tony had Rick taking sets. Years later Jerry Rapp told me when he was drinking and walking home in the moonlight he heard hoof beats on the polo field. “It was little Ricky Sears and little Billy Raab playing polo on their boss’ horses at night.”
By hook or by crook Rick became one of the most under rated 5 goal players in Florida. He paid his dues playing for Jimmy Bachman and later George Haas. He was a staple professional at Millbrook in New York, Brandywine, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Big Horn Wyoming. When asked about what school he attended he would say, “I went to Harvard and Yale,” which was true because he was used as an arena player at both those locations as a professional in alumni games.
He was king of the underdogs, be they grooms, flaggers, kids, women, or anyone who was picked on. I have seen him defend them all whether they were rich or poor. And Lord help the man, woman or child who had an ego because I have seen him tell pouting 10 Goal players they sucked after a game. I saw him address a 7 goal Argentine who was holding the club he played at hostage through his antics and had his patron backing him. “Hey, what’s up ****o you little Monkey**ck!”
He was known to back the ball on penalty three and twos. Once I was umpiring a game Rick played in when he was fouled at a right angle by a female patron while he was defending his goal. When I blew the whistle, this “Lady” cussed me a blue streak and began to screech like a Sandhill crane. I was right there next to both of them and Rick turned to me and smiled and then looked back at the woman. “Gee I thought you were fine; I don’t know what’s the matter with Sam.” I’m not sure I ever got him back for that one.
He was a member of the all Full Moon Team for toughness on the field. Once in a game he stood up to turn his horse and an opponent caught him with a near side back shot in the testicle which ruptured. He got off laid on the ground, waived the paramedics off, dropped his stirrups sat back on his tail bone the rest of the game and ended up scoring a goal. I had to trick him into going to the hospital.
As a professional umpire he served in every capacity that the program offered from director to mentor almost all of the umpires now in the program. He was a recipient of the National Umpire of the Year award. Twice he saved either horse or rider by jumping in Florida canals after submerged animals. His best friend and head umpire at the time Bobby Barry died in his arms on a beach in California.
Unfortunately Rick’s physical toughness and his unwavering commitment to principal would not serve him well in the end at this job. He was seriously injured twice when a horse flipped on him and again when another fell he suffered a concussion. Either one might have killed another man but Rick continued on not realizing he had a fractured pelvic bone that turned up later in an MRI.
A month later, unemployed because he could no longer keep up with the play on the field, he developed a bleeding ulcer and contracted a super virus in the hospital and died. When serving a director of the Umpire program, Rick Sears handed me something and said, “Here put this in an article.” I didn’t submit it because I thought it might affect his job. I ran across a handwritten note this week and got a chill it was the note about umpiring and I realized it was time to tell the story of Rick Sears.
These are his words:
1. Players should be held responsible for the plays they make.
2. If you allow the Patrons or players to take charge of what happens on the field there will be problems both on and off the field. Most umpires are paid to do an unthankful job, but still do their best. Umpires are not out to decide the outcome of a game, but do their best to call it. I have already seen players umpiring games. Those games have gotten out of hand, because the players umpiring are afraid to call fouls or technical because of fear of retribution from those players when they umpire games they play in later. It is very hard for an umpire (Pro or Not) to call a game without the support of the management.
3. Players have to remember it is a 50-50 deal on the field. In other words, players create the fouls. (Which I was told by a ten goal player who agreed with me) Umpires just call the game. Umpiring is a lonely job. You make no friends and lose some you already had. But as a pro umpire I or we will not be intimidated by players or patrons or sometimes management. We will call the game fair and as we are told by the rules of the USPA.
4. One last thought is that a lot of players before they argue about a rule, they should read the interpretations and know what some of the rules are. The new interpretations are put out for each new year. Teams for each new year should go over the new interpretations and discuss them and if they have any questions ask the USPA or any pro umpire to get ready for the season. The players have to remember, umpires do not make the rules they just enforce them.
The above note should resonate with everyone that ever put on a striped shirt. He was sticking up for them. It’s too bad this had to come from the grave. He was famous for his flip flops, Hawaiian shirts and laid back attitude. He was instrumental getting Adam Snow and Tommy Biddle their start as professionals. He was the king of talking smack on the field. An up and coming three goal player from South Africa told me he decided to give Rick a hard ride off just as he went to take a neck shot.
“I hit him in the ribs with my shoulder and thought I moved his horse over but when I looked up I saw his neck shot sail through the goal seventy yards away,” he said. “Rick smiled at me and said; Man this game is easy.”
He leaves behind an entire sport full of friends and dozens of other that never put a foot in a stirrup. He leaves behind a daughter Rachel, mother Nancy and brother Tim in Florida and sister Wendy in North Carolina. His wife Sande lives in California.
Rest up Humphrey and save me a cold one.
Sam Morton is the author of “Where the Rivers Run North” and the recently released “The Winged Spur”