If April showers bring May flowers and what goes around comes around then September brings polo to Bendabout Farm.
Weather permitting, tradition continues Saturday and Sunday on South Lee Highway in McDonald. The games begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Entrance is free, but donations are accepted on Sunday to benefit the 6th Calvary Museum in Fort Oglethorpe. People are encouraged to bring folding chairs or take advantage of available bleacher seating. For more information, call 423-479-1645 or visit www.bendabout.com for updates.
Julio Arleano, the top-ranked player in the United States the past two years, will play for the Bendabout team captained by Gillian Johnston. The local team will be opposed by a Maryland club led by Will Johnston. He will ride with Owen Rinehart.
According to Boone Stribling, who coordinates the matches, “These are top horses that can play anywhere and these are good players that play all over the world. Julio Arleano is the highest-rated American player.”
Arleano carries a 9-rating; Gillian Johnston, 1; Will Johnston, 2; Owen Rinehart, 6; Whisle Nuys and Tiger Knee each carry a 5-rating. The combined ratings on each team this weekend will equal 16.
Polo is played with four mounted players on each team. Any player may score. There are six periods (chukkers), in a game with a halftime coming after the third chukker. Each chukker lasts seven minutes. If the game is tied at the end of the sixth period, play continues into overtime periods until a team wins.
The game is played on a grass field usually measuring 300 yards long by 160 yards wide. The goal posts are set 24 feet apart.
The local matches are warm-up matches for major polo competitions in Aiken, S.C., beginning the following week. Gillian Johnston’s team successfully competed on the Wyoming summer circuit and will continue competitive play in Aiken.
Will Johnston, who played well in England and also in Wyoming this summer will continue playing in Argentina this fall.
Polo at Bendabout Farm is closely bound to Coca-Cola and 6th Cavalry officers billeted at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., who were encouraged to play the sport to improve their horsemanship. In the meantime, James Johnston and Benjamin Thomas acquired the first Coca-Cola bottling franchise in 1901, which served parts of Tennessee and surrounding areas from Chattanooga.
By the 1930s, Summerfield Johnston Sr., had become acquainted with the officers and through them developed an interest in polo. A local team was formed with Bob Easterly, Don Carr and several men who worked on the farm.
The Army officers and the Bendabout team played matches, alternating between the farm and the fort. But like many other pastimes that were commonplace, the games ended during World War II.
Polo at the farm resumed again in the 1950s.
Watch for full coverage in Sunday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.