Wichita polo event turns fun into funding for grief-support group (VIDEO)

For an afternoon, South Broadway looked more like Palm Beach.

More than 500 people gathered Sunday at the Fairfield Polo Club, 9420 S. Broadway, south of Haysville, to watch polo, sip wine and bourbon, smoke cigars, wear elaborate hats and raise money for charity.

The event was pretty upscale. The biggest sponsors were the Hinkle Law Firm and Randy Cooper’s Fine Jewelry. A raffle included a Rolex watch and Kansas City Chiefs football tickets for a game in Denver, complete with private flight and limo.

The Polo on the Plains event raised $100,000 last year at the first such event, and Kidzcope executive director Julie Prater expects to raise significantly more this year because the number of attendees is up by a third.

Kidzcope, which provides counseling for grieving children, assisted about 800 children last year.

“Because of Polo on the Plains last year, we were able, for the first time, to do grief outreach in the schools,” Prater said.

The organization changed its name from Three Trees about six years ago, she said.

While the elegant dresses, exotic entertainment and party spirit made the event feel special, for the men and women sweating and straining on the horses, Sunday’s match probably seemed familiar.

Polo may appear to be an unusual sport in Wichita, but it’s played several times a week at the Fairfield Polo Club throughout the summer by a small group of dedicated local polo aficionados.

At Sunday’s event, there were two teams of four, who know and play each other regularly and have done so for years. In fact, some of them will keep playing each other after the season ends in Kansas and they move to their winter residences in Sarasota, Fla., where polo is much more popular.

Each player brought six or seven trained polo horses, which are hauled in trailers and tended by grooms. And a couple of the players are professionals.

“It’s an expensive sport,” acknowledged Jack Shelton, part-owner of the club and an enthusiast for more than 40 years. But he said the sport should still be a lot more popular in Wichita than it is. He has started an academy here to train newcomers in the sport.

“It’s certainly competitive,” he said. “With the contact, it’s like football in a way. And with the ball, it’s like golf.”

He was resting at his trailer Sunday during the long break between the first three periods, called chukkers. There are six chukkers per match, and each chukker lasts seven and a half minutes.

A polo field is the size of nine football fields, and the horses run at least three miles during a chukker. That is why the players need a fresh horse after each period.

But it’s a sport in which Jack Shelton can play with his grandson Josh Shelton.

“That’s my exercise,” Jack Shelton said. “I’m 75, and there’s not many things that I work up a sweat for.”

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danvoorhis.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle