Polo for a Cause: Sixth memorial held to remember former Skidmore coach

Unfortunately, many myths and misconceptions surround the issue of suicide, and an upcoming event entitled “Even Polo Players Get the Blues” addresses that reality.

The event (a polo match between Cornell University and Skidmore College) will take place on Feb. 29, and is held in memory of Sue Knight, a former captain for the Cornell Polo team and head coach at Skidmore. This will be the sixth year the event will be held (at 1 p.m. at the Cornell Oxley Equestrian Center on Pine Tree Road), and in the words of my longtime friend Ann Michel, “As a player on the Cornell Polo team in the early 1980s [Cornell won the national championship in 1980 and 1981], I really looked up to Sue. When we learned in 2013 that she had taken her own life, we were shocked.”

That is understandable. Sue was an Ivy League graduate, an elite player and respected coach, and as Michel stated, few people knew of her challenges. According to Michel, “Sue was outgoing. She was accomplished, and while polo players tend to be driven, ‘Type A’ personalities, it took everyone by surprise.” She added, “She kept it all hidden, and that’s how we came up with the name ‘Even Polo Players Get the Blues.’”

After their friend’s passing, several members of the tightly-knit polo community made the decision to honor her by creating an ongoing event to raise awareness. “Some of us put our heads together,” Ann offered, “and we said ‘Let’s have a game in Sue’s honor,’ and we decided to partner with Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services.”

The first year, the game was held outdoors, and Michel recalled that luckily, it didn’t rain. Polo is a game that is much too unsafe for all athletes—two and four-legged—if played on a wet field, so the organizers chose to move future events to the indoor facility and hold it in the winter, so as not to compete with the plethora of events that take place in our small window of nice weather.

Organizing and keeping the event going helps Sue’s friends and colleagues address the feelings so often experienced by those who lose a friend or loved one to suicide. “There are so many ‘what-ifs,’” Michel stated, “and you feel so helpless. That’s why we chose to partner with an organization dedicated to education and prevention, so we can help work toward a more open society, where mental illness is not perceived so differently than other illnesses.” She added, “The impact we can make will be hard to quantify, but we want to know that we’re just trying to make a difference.”

The event will offer an opportunity to watch a fast-paced polo match—a worthwhile reason in and of itself to attend—and it will also give those who attend an opportunity to meet the players from both teams (including the horses). There will be a polo skills demonstration during which visitors will be given a chance to hit a polo ball. Also, food will be provided by Mama Said Hand Pies. There will be no admission price, but donations to SPCS will be gratefully accepted.

If you have never seen a polo match, I highly recommend attending this event. Like ice hockey, the sport features a convergence of numerous skill sets, and it is a great sport to watch. Plus, there is a level of dedication not required by most sports, given when you play a game of baseball, for example, you put the glove, ball and bat in the trunk of your car and call it a day. For polo players, Michel says, “Logistically, playing polo involves a lot. The horses have to eat every day, they need to be cared for, and you never get more than 12 hours off.”

I was asked to meet up at Argos with some visiting friends on Saturday evening, and while we tried to have a conversation, it was nearly impossible given the raucous behavior in the adjoining room. It was a bit annoying until one of my friends peeked in, and reported, “It’s the Cornell women’s hockey team. They are celebrating going undefeated for the entire ECAC Hockey Regular season.” Understood. Next up, Cornell (19-0-3 in conference play) will host St. Lawrence for a three-game series next weekend for the ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals.

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