Fundraiser for Batavia Arts Council an opportunity to watch polo action
Since being tabbed the “sport of kings” by observers hundreds of years ago, the game of polo has essentially been associated with members of royalty testing their courage on horseback in a game of power and endurance.
Whether George and Barbara Alexander of Batavia have fallen into the “royalty” category over more than 50 years of engaging in the sport and bringing it to the Fox Valley area on their Bliss Road farmland is open to debate.
But these former players and the longtime organizers of the Blackberry Polo Club had fairly simple intentions when embracing the sport and keeping it in the forefront for others who like the challenge and exhilaration of riding a horse across a 10-acre playing field at high speeds while attempting to swing a mallet to smash a ball into a goal.
“I used to show Hunter-Jumper horses out east, and the polo clubs and Hunter-Jumpers (clubs) were together, so I always wanted to play,” Barbara Alexander said.
She brought that desire to her home in Batavia and figured her easiest way “in” to what was essentially a man’s sport was to purchase polo lessons for her husband, George, through an instructor at the Naperville Polo Club nearly 50 years ago. If George got interested, she could “sneak in” as well, she figured, because only one other woman, Joy Butler of Oak Brook, was playing.
“So, I really kind of snuck in and got other women involved,” Barbara said. “Now George thinks there are too many women playing,” she added with a laugh.
Both of the Alexanders, now in their early 80s, have put their playing days behind them. Barbara stopped at age 76 about four years ago and George at age 75 about six years ago.
But their efforts to keep polo going have continued through managing the club. Games are held just about every weekend and practice sessions a couple nights a week during the summer on the two fields across their vast property at 1S990 Bliss Road, just south of the Bliss and Main Street stoplight.
The public gets to view the action once a year when the Alexanders host a fundraiser for the Batavia Arts Council with polo games and other activities. This year’s event takes place from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7, with a tropical theme. Gates open at 11 a.m. for spectators.
The polo fundraiser has been staged at the Blackberry Polo Club fields for nine years, said Julane Sullivan, president of the Batavia Arts Council. “We also raise money for the Shakespeare at the Centre organization through this fundraiser,” Sullivan noted.
As for Barbara’s ploy to get her husband interested in polo, it turns out it wasn’t too hard to convince him.
“It’s a horse game, it’s a team game, it’s a physical game and it’s a speed game,” George said. “If you are competitive and into horses, it is a lot of fun.”
Players go after the ball during the Blackberry Polo Club’s Batavia Arts Council Tournament. This year’s tournament is set for Aug. 7. – Sandy Bressner/Shaw Media, 2021
Any players in the region interested in the Sunday games just show up at the polo club. At that point, the process resembles “a pickup game in which we make up the best teams we can for a fair, competitive game,” George explained.
The weekly player pool for games, with four riders on each side, comes from the nearly 100 players from throughout the area, many of whom could show up any weekend. The weather has to cooperate because when the fields are too wet it gets too dangerous to play and the fields get torn up, George noted.
The horses generally know the game as well as the riders. “They know when it is time to bump another horse and they know when to stop and turn,” George said. “They do it on instruction, of course, because they aren’t just going to chase the ball for you.”
The Alexanders have been operating the Blackberry Polo Club since 1986, after initially playing every week at the Naperville Polo Club.
But the Naperville club’s forest preserve location wouldn’t allow beer on the premises, and that’s when George knew it was time for a change.
“It was hard to entertain out-of-town teams if you couldn’t have a cold beer after a match,” George said. “Everyone had a cooler and wanted to sit down and relax after a match.
“You beat the heck out of each other for an hour and a half in the game, and then you drink and visit together for two hours,” he said, with a laugh.
Street full of art
You know the summer is moving quickly on us when Swedish Days in Geneva and other area festivals have passed, but suddenly it’s time for the annual Geneva Arts Fair.
Third Street will be blocked to traffic, but full of creativity when artisans from around the country set up their displays for the fair from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 23, and Sunday, July 24.
This particular festival has gotten bigger and better with each passing year — and by that, we mean the past 20 years.
A busy Currito
We haven’t had a chance to stop in yet, but the eyeball test tells us that the new Currito quick-serve restaurant in Geneva is a hit.
The parking lot at the restaurant at 1873 S. Randall Road has looked quite full most of the time it is open. Currito, emphasizing healthy dishes and smoothies, is a Cincinnati-based “build your own burrito and bowl” restaurant operation.
The Geneva store marked the fifth Currito in the Chicagoland area.
An example for all
What is the best way for me to sum up the passing of my friend Sam Hill of Geneva? He was an example for all us to follow.
Sure, I had fun playing golf with Sam, and also when he took me to an Illini football game at his beloved University of Illinois in Champaign. I spent a lot of time at his home helping his wife, Carolyn, plan and organize the Geneva Dancing with the Stars fundraisers over about a five-year period. Sam, of course, took part by dancing one year and winning the competition that raised money for the Geneva schools and arts.
Mostly, from the time he first walked up to me on the sidelines and introduced himself when I was covering a Geneva High School football game in about 1980, I knew I liked this fellow.
It was sad to hear last week that he had died at age 86.
It was impossible to not like Sam. He had a permanent smile on his face when he was around other people, and that same charm helped fuel his methods to get important things done for his hometown as a plan commissioner, park district board member, an alderman or an active Fox Valley Presbyterian Church member.
We have to have more Sam Hills in our communities. For that to happen, we all have to take a page from his playbook — smile more often and provide a helping hand to others.
Hard to shake it
It’s only been a week and a half since the tragic events in Highland Park on July 4. It will be hard to shake the feeling of dread from this mass shooting years from now, let alone at this moment.
Prior to hearing the news, I was taking mental notes on the power of the Fourth of July that day. Yes, it’s a celebration of the birth of our country’s democratic voyage, but it’s also the true summer holiday in which mothers and fathers get to spend time with their young children, and grandparents do the same with grandkids.
I saw moms and dads playing catch or pitching baseballs to their sons and daughters on the park district fields that are almost always in use for organized leagues. I saw them fishing with their children along creeks and the Fox River during our morning walk.
And, of course, they were likely planning for family get-togethers and barbecues. And maybe the entire family was going to head off to a parade and the fireworks show to finish the day.
Many of those pleasant thoughts were ruined on this particular July 4. Where we go from here will depend greatly on how we engage with our young people, and support mental health agencies, our police and elected officials — specifically, those who are willing to put our safety first in efforts to seek answers to these problems and make a real difference.