Originally created 11/27/05

Bicycle polo players don't horse around



Bicycles and bike parts, along with mallets and balls, were strewn along the sidelines of Winthrop Polo Field on Nov. 19.

Some of the bikers were on the field while others relaxed in lawn chairs or on the ground.

The polo field was the site of a three-day bicycle polo tournament Nov. 18-20 to celebrate the 50th birthday of Bill Matheson, a 36-year veteran of the sport and a two-time gold medalist in world championship play. Mr. Matheson started Bicycle Polo of Aiken and Augusta five years ago to prepare for the 2000 World Championships in New Delhi, India.

"It's good exercise. It's a lot of fun," said Mr. Matheson. "It's biking and a team sport and racket sport all in one thing."

The competitors in the three-day tournament included two Aiken teams, the Canadian and French National Bicycle Polo teams; a Unionville, Pa., team and an international All-Star team.

George Galvan, a member of the Aiken B team, gave up equestrian polo about eight years ago. He said he has been playing bicycle polo for about three years.

He said there are some advantages to the two-wheeled sport.

"It doesn't cost anything," said Mr. Galvan. "I enjoy coming out and exercising."

However, he said, bicycle polo is more physically demanding than equestrian polo.

"It's a lot harder on your body," he said. "The horses do all the work in regular polo."

Mr. Matheson said this tournament was the second bicycle polo event in Aiken this year. The Jan Wendland Memorial Tournament was held in March.

"In the U.S., there are people playing all over the place. The problem is, when they start they all make up their own rules," Mr. Matheson said.

"It's only by getting people to play by the same rules that you can hope to have any kind of a tournament."

Andy O'Byrne, of Aiken, was at the tournament "cheering on all the teams."

His son, Andrew Jr., gave him something to shout about when he scored against the Unionville team.

Mr. O'Byrne said he is a former equestrian polo player and his son learned to play bicycle polo at Aiken Preparatory School.

Avery Carter, 12, a pupil at Schofield Middle School who plays with Mr. Matheson's team, also watched the action from the sidelines.

He said he started playing the sport four years ago after he saw the bicycle polo players practicing at Winthrop field.

"I just came over here and asked could I play," he said.

Avery has not looked back.

"I love it," he said enthusiastically. "It's fun."

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395 or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.