POLO is a game of Asiatic origin played by teams of players on horseback using mallets with long flexible handles to drive a wooden ball through the opponent's goal. The sport was popular in the Cleveland area during the 1920s and 1930s. Disrupted by World War II, it was revived in the 1950s by enthusiasts who formed the Cleveland Polo Club.
Polo was introduced in the Cleveland area in 1911 by Edmund S. Burke, Jr., and Corliss E. Sullivan, who learned the game while wintering in Camden, SC. Burke laid out a polo field on his estate in Wickliffe, bought Texas ponies to provide mounts for area players, and hired polo expert Earl Hopping to teach the game. By 1914 he had assembled a champion team: Burke, A. D. Baldwin, Ben Hitchcock, THOMAS H. WHITE, and Robert C. Norton, who won the Mid-Western Championship that year. As the sport grew in popularity, more players mounted up, and other local fields were laid out in the 1910s and 1920s. The CHAGRIN VALLEY HUNT CLUB formed a polo team and laid out a regulation 200-by-300-yard field in 1916; 2 were laid out at the Kirtland Country Club, and 1 each at the Circle W Farm of Walter C. White, at the Waite Hill estate of John Sherwin, Jr., and at the Halfred Farms of Windsor T. White. During the 1920s, Cleveland teams regularly won the championship of the U. S. Polo Assn.'s Central Circuit, formed in 1925. In 1927 and 1931, the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club team won both the Central Circuit title and the National Intercircuit Championship. In 1928 the National Intercircuit polo Championships and the 12-Goal Polo Tournament were held at the Circle W Farm in GATES MILLS, the first time in American polo history that the national championships were held in the Midwest. By 1936, when local polo enthusiasts celebrated the 25th anniversary of the sport in Cleveland, crowds of 2,000-3,000 were attending the outdoor games on weekend afternoons. Of the $10,300 budget of the local polo committee in 1937, $7,000 was derived from the $.50 cent admission fee, and the rest from fees assessed to the 24 local polo players. The championship returned to the Cleveland area in 1936 and 1940. Interest in polo was also maintained by special matches, such as a series of games played by the Mexican Army team against local teams in 1939.
In addition to outdoor polo, indoor polo became popular in the 1920s and 1930s. TROOP A began playing polo indoors in the winter in 1922, and by 1933 the indoor season lasted from November-April, with 14 3-player teams and 43 players taking part in the matches. An estimated 54,000 people attended indoor matches in 1933. In addition to teams such as Troop A, the Pessimists, and the Cleveland Riding Club, businesses such as FISHER FOODS sponsored indoor polo teams in the 1930s. Like their outdoor counterparts, indoor teams often competed against teams from other cities, including college teams from Harvard and Yale.
The growth of local polo was interrupted by World War II as mechanization of the cavalry put an end to U.S. Army polo teams; business-sponsored teams also disappeared. After the war, the outdoor sport was revived on a much smaller scale when William Herbert Greene organized a polo team in 1950; by 1953 the team was playing an 8-game schedule in the Penn-Ohio league supported by the Cleveland Polo Assn., made up of about 200 enthusiasts. In 1960 the Mid-States Polo League was organized. About 3,000 fans attended the club games in 1964, and by 1965 Cleveland had 2 complete 4-player polo teams. The Cleveland Polo Club had 10 playing members in 1978, but fan interest diminished in the 1970s. By the 1980s Cleveland had only 1 outdoor polo team, the Cleveland Shamrocks, whose games at the South Chagrin Metroparks Reservation field continued to attract hundreds of observers. In 1980 the Shamrocks won the Mid-State Championships, the first polo title for a Cleveland team in 20 years, but expenses prevented the team from traveling to the national championships in Arizona.