Polo, a sport originating in ancient Persia, has been played for over two thousand years. The name derives from the word “pulu”, which means “ball” in Balti, a Tibetic language spoken in South Asia. In the early 19th century, the modern sport of Polo was introduced to the western world through British India. It is now played professionally in 16 countries, and even made an appearance as an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1936.

On July 30, 2017, the Myopia Hunt and Polo Club hosted the Will Tankard Cup with the United States Polo Association (USPA) playing against a South American ensemble team.  Located in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, the Myopia Hunt and Polo Club is one of the oldest active polo clubs in America. The Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) has held an annual charity fundraising event at the Myopia Club since 2014 to support its research and educational efforts.

For many VIC members, this event marked their first time spectating a polo match. It was an especially enriching experience for the interns, who  had the opportunity to mingle with other lab members and meet contributors to the VIC student research fund. The attendees were lucky to be greeted with clear skies and a cool breeze. A large marquee was also set up, courtesy of Wendy Drinkwater and George Vallone, friends of VIC. Tables were decked with hors’ d’oeuvres, dessert and cocktails for the refreshment of all attendees. A range of VIC merchandise – caps and T-shirts – was also on display, with proceeds going towards the fundraising effort. Attendees also had the opportunity to try Pimm’s, traditionally the drink of choice in most Polo events in Britain and the United States.

After a heartfelt rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, the game commenced at 3 pm with strong play from both teams. The match comprised six 7-minute ‘chukkas’, or periods of gameplay, with 4-minute intervals between chukkas and a 10-minute halftime. In polo, it is common for the “ponies” (in fact regular-sized adult horses) to be changed intermittently during each high-intensity chukka to give the riders the advantage of a fresh horse. Grooms stood on either end of the field throughout the match, with new ponies lined up to substitute their fellow mounts on the playing field.

The guests were in for a treat at halftime with a parade of the Myopia Club’s foxhounds, followed by an invitation to greet the friendly hounds on the field. In contrast to traditional foxhunting, only “drag hunts” take place at Myopia; a trail of aniseed oil is laid down beforehand for the hounds to follow in lieu of an actual animal.

During one of the chukkas, a shrill whistle sounded, halting the game for no apparent purpose. The audience’s bewilderment soon gave way to laughter as the commentator announced, “And… someone’s dog is on the field!” A small, energetic Pekingese had surprised everyone by running onto the field in an attempt to capture the attention of the ponies. The game was halted for a good five minutes as the exasperated owner frantically tried to catch her excited puppy, who was capering wildly about much to the amusement of the assembled audience. While certainly diverting, it served as a timely reminder for all other guests to keep their pets leashed at a safe distance from the playing field. The match ended at 5.30 pm in a close fight between the two teams; the triumphant USPA team beat their adversaries with just one point to spare.

As part of VIC’s fundraising efforts, a silent auction was held in the marquee over the course of the afternoon. Attendees even had the opportunity to take home a piece of cutting-edge research from VIC. Up for auction were three framed prints of multi-dimensional network clusters created by VIC researchers, Patrick Reeves and Joshua Hess, through a nodal clustering software. As a mark of VIC’s generous supporters, the prints were sold to the highest bidder for approximately $1000.

Awards were also given out in the afternoon — the first being for the two best-dressed attendees, who were each gifted with a bottle of Pimm’s.  Another important event to note was the announcement of the 2017 Will Tankard Scholar. The award was established in honor of Will Tankard, a former member of the USA polo team, who died in a tragic car accident en route to a polo match two years ago. Since then VIC has selected an outstanding student from among its summer interns to receive the award. This year’s Will Tankard Scholar was Riley Driscoll, a rising senior at Brigham Young University who joined VIC through the Summer Research Trainee Program. Part of the money raised at this year’s polo event will fund his work at VIC.

VIC would like to thank its donors and attendees for helping raise over $25,000 from all sales at the polo event — a sum that will further VIC’s research and educational programs. A special thank you to Wendy Drinkwater and Sotheby’s Karen Hansen for donating food and alcoholic beverages, and everyone else who helped make the event a resounding success!

– Akshay Mamidi, Claire Chan, & Gabby Funez-dePagnier

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