The Rapidian

Grand Rapids to host first bike polo tournament

Bike poloists from the American South to Canada will travel to Grand Rapids for regional qualifier.

Affiliated with Spoke Folks

The Spoke Folks, along with many others, have been an integral part in this new sports development in Grand Rapids.

Goalie poised to defend

Goalie poised to defend /LEJ Studios

Zylstra's club in practice on Sunday

Zylstra's club in practice on Sunday /LEJ Studios

Move over, Seabiscuit; there's a new type of polo in town.

For the first time, Grand Rapids will host an official North America Hard-court Bike Polo tournament on June 15 and 16 at Belknap Park, where two bike polo specific courts were recently built.

Bike polo hasn’t always been a popular sport, but with a drastic spike in interest to play in recent years, the city of Grand Rapids responded with two regulation sized courts with four foot barriers and a lighting system for night play.

Previously, Grand Rapids polo enthusiasts that were not so fortunate to own horses played under the S curve of U.S. 131. They now have a space to play. Bike polo courts are traditionally on grass fields, but the concrete courts the city provided make a smoother and more durable surface for this year’s NAH Northside Regional Qualifier.

The majority of bike polo events are self-refereed. Players wear cage helmets, kneepads and shin guards, but all players have a responsibility for their safety and others. While it’s a contact sport, it’s not designed to be an impact sport. Players have to be careful when they’re biking into each other and take necessary safety precautions.

Veteran polo enthusiast Bob Zylstra says the game is usually without injuries aside from the occasional falling of the bike. He attributes this to participants following the rules and safety of the game.

“If someone is being a jerk, tell them to go home,” he says.

Throughout North America, there are seven regions for competitive bike polo, all with their own qualifier to advance to the North American Championship Tournament in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

With the tournament this weekend, Grand Rapids bike polo players have been practicing multiple times a week at Belknap Park. The light system can be turned on at night for playtime around the clock.

The format for the tournament is bracketed elimination style play. Saturday is a Swiss format, and Sunday is double elimination. Teams of three compete until only one team is remaining. Depending on the turnout, many teams could do well enough to qualify for the North American Championships.

Zylstra has been a competitor for years. He has played in the Northside Region Qualifier tournament before, but is very excited to see the tournament played on his home courts.

“It really draws some people from out of town," he says. "Draw them in for the beer, draw them in for the city. We’ll try to be good hosts.”

Zylstra has made long weekend trips to Toronto, Canada and Louisville, Kentucky for tournament trips before. He is very hopeful that his team and his club can put on a good show for the incoming travelers.

“It’s more about socializing; not so much competing," he says. "You have a good time whoever you’re playing with.” 

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