WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — There's precision in the way Seth Carlson uses a long-stemmed mallet to send a small rubber ball skidding into the goal in Wausau's Riverside Park. It's even more impressive that he can aim and shoot from his bike without sending himself sprawling on the pavement.
Carlson and his teammates in the Wausau Bike Polo club are here multiple times each week, the Wausau Daily Herald (http://wdhne.ws/2tbHSWo ) reported. Their bikes click as they coast around the polo court, which is enclosed by painted boards, assembled to keep the ball inside its boundaries. The club's logo is visible in the middle of the court, hand painted on the boards.
Later this month members of the Wausau Bike Polo club, and its traveling team, the Hardwoods, will face off against the best bike polo teams in the country. They're headed to Frederick, Maryland from July 28 through 30, to compete in the 2017 North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship.
Bike polo is a new addition to Wausau's sports roster. When Carlson was introduced to bike polo in 2013 by friends in the Twin Cities, there wasn't really a space in Wausau that could house a polo court.
So Carlson, along with his brothers Flynn and Dylan Carlson, went searching for space. They tried an abandoned warehouse on the riverfront, but after only minutes of play, police informed them that it wasn't exactly safe to be inside, Carlson said.
The players relocated to a tennis court at Marathon Park, but that space proved to be problematic as well. The club was expanding, and the small courts didn't have enough space for all the riders. The team played a few games a week, using orange traffic cones as goals. But it wasn't an ideal setup.
Carlson turned to his City Council member at the time, Gary Gisselman, for help. After showing Gisselman some videos of the sport, he connected the team to the parks department, which helped to secure a spot big enough for a regulation court with actual goals.
The Wausau Bike Polo club now has a permanent court at Riverside Park on the city's near west side, where it takes up an old parking lot alongside the river, where Emter Street dead-ends into the park. Members gather there every Sunday and Thursday to practice their skills. Anyone is welcome to stop by for a quick pick-up game or just to watch and enjoy an afternoon outside.
Bike polo is polo on two wheels instead of a horse, and it's a contact sport.
Matches typically consist of two teams of three players. Each player has a special bike which allows him or her to turn quickly, and a mallet with one open end to manipulate the ball and a closed end to shoot with. The ball is similar to what street hockey players use — about the size of a tennis ball, but much denser and less prone to bouncing.
The Wausau team usually plays until a team scores five points or for 15 minutes, whichever comes first. Players whiz back and forth on their bikes, avoiding falls and crashes. The game can get physical, but the rules stipulate that contact can only be body-on-body, mallet on mallet or bike on bike, Carlson said. Players can't hit each other with their mallets while chasing the ball, though sometimes there are bumps and bruises after an evening of tough play.
"There can be collisions," he said. "The worst I've ever gotten was a mallet to the chin."
Autumn Parzuch started playing last fall after watching the team spar for years. She didn't have any of the equipment when she started, but that didn't stop the team from welcoming her in.
"I wanted to learn, so they gave me a bike," she said. "I wouldn't have been able to do it without them."
Parzuch said that open spirit is one of the best things about bike polo. Though she's still gaining her balance on the bike, the others in the club have encouraged her to get out onto the court, playing slower matches.
"As a woman, it's nice to have the camaraderie," she said. "It's not just a bunch of jock guys."
Carlson said the team's win at the Great Lakes Regional Qualifier on June 10 and 11 was surprising because Wausau's polo club is much smaller than those in bigger cities. Their victory earned them a spot in the the national tournament. Carlson said that a five player team will head out to Maryland on July 28 through 30, consisting of Carlson, his two brothers, Tyler Wildman and Matt Bolenbaugh. The team is hoping to secure a spot in the World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship.
"We're tiny," Carlson said. "To be able to compete with people who draw from a much bigger talent depth, that's pretty cool. We're able to compete on the same stage as everyone else."
But the size of the team hasn't deterred any of the members from dreaming big about their ability to win at nationals, and hopefully beyond. The top teams from the national tournament will move on to the world championship tournament, which will be hosted in Lexington, Kentucky.
"Our goal as a team is to make the top eight (at Nationals)," Carlson said. "We want to make it to Worlds."
Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com