Embracing his family’s love of the sport from a young age, Dana Fortugno caught a glimpse into the transient lifestyle he would come to view as second nature as a 5-goal professional player and umpire. Traveling seasonally between Pennsylvania and Florida, Fortugno quickly developed his skills on the field, raising the USPA Gold Cup® (1986) and Bronze Trophy® (1984) over the course of his 15-year professional career. Studying Psychology at the University of Virginia (UVA), Fortugno joined the intercollegiate team in 1988, claiming the Men’s National Intercollegiate Championship during his first year. Although furthering his education with a Juris Doctor degree from the Widener University Delaware Law School and a Master of Laws (LL.M) in trial advocacy from Temple University Beasley School of Law, Fortugno never lost his affinity for the defining game of his childhood.
Despite his impressive resume of academic achievements, Fortugno is naturally easy-going, maintaining a sharp sense of humor by not taking himself too seriously. A self-proclaimed animal lover, Fortugno especially loves dogs and riding horses while umpiring at clubs on the east coast during the summer. Demonstrating his love for teaching, Fortugno returned to coach the I/I polo team at his undergraduate alma mater for five years after graduating from law school and recently created the USPA video rulebook in 2019. Assuming the title of Eastern Regional Umpire Director at the start of the new year, Fortugno is eager to align efforts with Western Regional Umpire Director, Fergus Gould, and focus on streamlining the officiating process of umpires from coast to coast.
What is your equestrian background and how did you become involved in polo?
“I started taking riding lessons when I was five or six years old and then started playing polo around ten. My two older brothers and my father taught me how to ride and play. Polo was a family hobby and our lives revolved around the sport. Growing up my family spent the summers in West Grove, Pennsylvania, which is near Philadelphia, and the winters in Palm Beach County, Florida. I went to school in Florida, but played polo in the northeast during the summer and in Florida during the winter season.”
Where have you played during your professional career?
“I was a 5-goal pro from the time I was 19 until I was 35 years old. I didn’t play as a pro the entire time because I also coached at the University of Virginia (UVA) for five years. I played mostly in the northeastern United States and also in Florida. Brandywine Polo Club [Toughkenamon, PA] was my home club and in the winter I played at Royal Palm Polo Club [Boca Raton, FL] and the original Palm Beach Polo Club. I also went down to Jamaica every year to play in the Easter tournament when I was a teenager and during college.”
How were you introduced to umpiring?
“When the professional umpire program first started in the early 1990s I umpired for a couple seasons, but the Umpires LLC was not formed back then. My brother Gene Fortugno was umpiring at the time, so I was introduced to it then, but back then we all had to umpire each other’s games. At that time there were no professional umpires so I used to umpire often just because we played a lot of tournaments. I learned how to umpire by necessity. For example if I played on Tuesday I would umpire games on Wednesday and vice versa. Each team had to provide at least one or two umpires for other games in the tournament that you were not playing and that’s where I first got the experience.”
Dana Fortugno speaks with Jennifer Alexy during a game at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Photo courtesy of Dana Fortugno.
What is the most difficult aspect of umpiring?
“Player management is the most challenging because everyone is different and you have to understand the players who you are umpiring in order to manage them properly. The most challenging part of teaching other umpires is teaching them what not to call. Calling fouls is easy, it’s good non calls that are hard to train. Playing the advantage can be particularly difficult to train other umpires, for example a player can be fouled and its easy to blow the whistle, but sometimes it’s better not to if the team which was fouled has a better advantage to let the foul go. In that situation they are in a better position should you not call a foul and that’s very hard for new umpires to grasp.”
What do your new responsibilities as Eastern Regional Umpire Director entail?
“This new position is about managing the umpires for the Florida season and making sure that they have access to the information they need. I need to make sure they have all the tools they need to do their jobs effectively whether it’s rules updates (we have our own internal web page where I put information for them), evaluating them when they are umpiring so we can track call percentages and call rates to rank our umpires, conducting player meetings where the players can come in and discuss plays, bringing calls that we missed back to the umpires or things we don’t need to be calling.
My responsibility is to keep my thumb on the pulse of the high-goal polo season in regards to umpiring. In the winter season my role is a supportive one for the umpires, making sure they have equipment such as radios, that they understand what the rule changes are and they know how we are calling the games and if we have to make any adjustments. Sometimes what we are doing is not working well and games become too rough. In the off season I fly around to different clubs and give rule reviews, do PUMP/8 and I’ll umpire with them to evaluate their skills.”
What is your favorite hobby outside of polo?
“I love playing with my dogs, I have three Pomeranians and a Chihuahua. Also, my wife is a bodybuilder and we enjoy working out together. We’ve been married for over 20 years and we run at daybreak three to five miles every morning. Every afternoon we hit the gym for an hour or so to work on one muscle group. I think this regiment has helped in umpiring, I can umpire more games in a day than I could before and not get tired.”
Dana Fortugno officiating at the Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbondale, Colorado. ©Aspen Valley Polo Club
What is your advice for someone who is interested in learning to umpire?
“To become a club umpire my advice would be to get on the USPA video rulebook I created and learn the basics. After that, umpire with one of us, attend a USPA boot camp and learn the procedures and then umpire as much as you can for your club while continuing to take advantage of any of the professional umpires when they come to visit. You have to have played polo to understand the concepts of the game before you can pursue professional umpiring. For a professional umpire we are looking for players who have been at least 4- or 5-goals and played professionally so we know you have a deep understanding of the fundamental concepts of the game and then we can train you from there.”
What do you hope to improve in the Umpires LLC through this role?
“I want to improve the professionalism of the Umpires LLC. Fergus Gould and I met before either one of us became director and we talked about how we want to manage the umpires. We both agreed that we want to steer away from being concerned about missing a singular play or call. We want to move towards imparting to our professional umpires the proper judgment and thought process for calling fouls. Once that is in place, we feel over the long term the calls and the consistency will take care of themselves. We want the experience with a professional umpire in California to be the same as it is in Florida and in order to do that we have to train them the same way.”
What motivates you to succeed in this role?
“I do this job because I feel more personal success than when I was working as an attorney. The most rewarding part of umpiring for me is getting on the horses because I love them. I grew up around polo and I love it so I want to leave a positive impact on the sport.”
If you would like to contact Dana Fortugno he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.