Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Morris Prokop

WINNING WIPEOUT – Snoezelen Room's Benjamin Bales wipes out during the 'Golden Rule' (overtime) as Alice Michaelson (far left) knocks in the 'Golden Goal' during the third annual Barrel Sider bike polo tournament at the Liard Rink in the Riverdale subdivision of Whitehorse Sunday. Scott "BS" Hillier (right) and Keelan Kenny (second from left) look on.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

FOCUSED FREYNE – Ashwin Freyne, left, and Colby Knowler go for the ball.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

HAPPY IN A HAMMOCK – Riel Allain, left, and Rasheeda Slater relax in a hammock between games.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

CROSSED MALLETS – Ethan Oblak, left, and Scott Thorpe battle for the ball.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

WHOA, BIKE! – Benjamin Bales fends off an attack by his bike during another wipeout in their 'Golden Rule' game.

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Photo by Morris Prokop

DOWN AND DIZZY – Graham Downey falls down during a contest for the DFL (Dead F***** Last) game. The contestants spin around with their heads on a mallet, then attempt to shoot the balls into the net. Jesse "J-Wey" Weyman is on the left and Donovan Camp is on the right.

Third annual Barrel Sider Bike Polo tourney rides again

Bike polo is the sport that doesn't take itself too seriously.

By Morris Prokop on September 7, 2023

Revised - Bike polo is one sport that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

To that end, the third annual Barrel Sider bike polo tournament rode again this past weekend.

It took place Sept. 2-3 at Liard Rink in the Riverdale subdivision of Whitehorse.

The Star stopped by the rink on Sunday afternoon to check out the action.

In one game, Ashwin Freyne of Peg Foo Young scored the tying goal, then his team won while enjoying a two-players- to-one advantage. (In the Golden Rule, or extra time, if someone falls, down, they are “dead” and are out of the game. The teams normally have three players each on the court). The final score was 3-2.

In the next game, Benjamin Bales of Snoezelen Room scored a hat trick, with his third goal tying the game. Snoezelen Room then won it in “Golden Rule” time.

Scott “BS” Hillier tallied his own hat trick in a losing cause.

The Star spoke with Bales after the thrilling match.

“It was a close one … I had quite a bit of a spill there, so I’m glad I was able to recover from that.

“Fitz’s bike kind of blew up at the end and we got Alice (Michaelson) in there on the mini bike and if she wasn’t there, we wouldn’t have cleaned it up at the end, so it worked out really well.”

Bales, from Vancouver, explained what brought him to the tourney.

“I’m good friends with Ashwin, who was the one who got bike polo started in Whitehorse, and we started playing together in Ottawa. I’ve come to visit him a few times up here and eventually bike polo got going up here, so I’ve been coming to the Barrel Sider tournament since it started.”

Bales said the weekend was “amazing. Meeting so many new people. Every time I come up here, I feel like I make new friends in Whitehorse and good to see old friends as well. And the games are really good and the bike polo has a really unique style in Whitehorse, so that’s what I come here for.”

Bales explained how the format worked for the tourney.

“The first day is figuring out which players are A, B, or C, according to skill level and then a committee gets together and plans out those teams and then you wake up in the morning and find out what team you’re on.

“We had a rough start and lost our first game, which put us in the Losers bracket, but we’ve been crawling our way out of it and we haven’t lost one since.”

A Snoezelen Room, in case you’re wondering, is a type of therapeutic room for kids and adults.

Bales believed, at that point, they were two wins away from winning the final.

“We still have a chance but there’s some really good teams.”

Bales added, “This rink we’ve got to play on in this neighbourhood is really awesome and it’s a great place to come and hang. I’m glad all the neighbours are OK with it and it’s just a really fun time. It’s a really cool environment.”

Rasheeda Slater, of Whitehorse, was also playing in the tournament.

Her team was still playing in the main bracket.

“We’ve been doing well. Lots of good play, lots of passes, some super-fun goals, just really great team communication.

“It’s a really welcoming group of people out here. We’re all here to have a really fun time and everyone’s coming off the court with big smiles on their faces.”

One of the tournament organizers, Marten Sealy, said the tourney was going well.

“We couldn’t ask for better people to show up and better weather for it.”

Sealy explained how he got involved.

“I, by chance, attended the very first polo of the second year and was hooked. I didn’t miss a Thursday all summer.”

Sealy said his team, “Caution! Meadowlark Crossing”, was undefeated at that point.

“We played two games so far and we’ve had tight games and they went well.”

Regarding the unique team name, Sealy said, “It’s because we have a very talented player on our team named Birdie. And the state bird of Oregon is the Western Meadowlark.

“Birdie is used to playing at a very high level. She has well-functioning brakes. Here, not everybody has those fancy bikes. A lot of our bikes were claimed from the dump, so we don’t quite have those brakes, so we wanted to honour that and say, ‘Caution, we have a bird crossing.’”

Sealy said Birdie just competed in Perpignan, France last weekend at the World Championships.

Birdie was one of two players at the tourney that made the trip from Perpignan to Whitehorse.

“They cut their teeth in Paris and now they’re ready for the Barrel Sider,” joked Sealy.

Bernadette (“Birdie”) Watts, from Portland, Oregon, has been playing bike polo for about 16 years.

She scored a late goal to make it a 3-1 final for the Meadowlarks in their game. The goal counted, although time had expired before it went in.

“We’re still in the winner’s bracket. Feels good,” said Watts.

At that point, they were going into the winner’s bracket final.

“It’s my first time in Whitehorse,” related Watts. “I’ve heard a lot about this place and the community and I’m happy to finally make it up here.”

Watts came straight from the 2023 World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship in France.

“I was in Perpinan, where the world’s championship was. I flew out of Barcelona, but my bike didn’t make it back, so I’m sharing a bike with Dev right now.”

Watts explained how she ended up in Whitehorse.

“My husband is the regional rep, so they were communicating about some vote that was happening with NAH (short for NAHBPC, North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Association). Then we heard about this wonderful tournament.

“It’s so chill. It reminds me what it was like when I first started playing, I was always on like, Frankenstein bikes, it was before polo bikes were made.

“The better your brakes are, the more like, nimbly, you can be.

“The top players at Worlds, there’s no one who can’t move nimbly like that. If you want to compete at that level, you have to play really tight defence but then turn around immediately.

“So play around with your ratio, see what makes you like feel like you’re fast without spinning too much, but also, we want to be able to pick up speed really quickly.”

Watts added, “I love Whitehorse. I want to come back.”

The “Dev” Watts referred to is Devora Barrera Gonzalez, from Guadalajara, Mexico. It was her second time in Whitehorse, having come to the first edition of the tournament in 2021.

“It’s great to see the club, how much it has grown. When I came, I feel like there were mostly men. And now I feel like there are over 30 people and half of them are women, transgender, non-conforming folx. It’s pretty exciting to see.”

Gonzalez and Watts conducted clinics on Thursday and Friday.

“I hope we gave them some good tips. Everybody was very receptive and I personally see a huge difference with how they touch the ball. They seem to pass more.

“I see more team play but also like, a little bit more smart and create more space. Better positioning.”

Gonzalez has been playing for about six years.

“I live in Anchorage. And the folks from Anchorage knew about this tournament because Ashwin had gone to the tournament we host in July. And he invited everyone and I just tagged along with the boys.

“I originally lived in San Francisco and then I moved up to Seattle and then from Seattle, I moved to Anchorage.”

Gonzalez obviously liked it in Whitehorse.

“The folks are great, the weather’s very similar to Anchorage. The courts are awesome. And it’s just a 12-hour commute. It’s not that bad.”

Gonzalez added, “Thank you to the club for everything they’ve done to grow the sport.”

Gonzalez’s team lost 2-1 to Snoezelen Room, which meant they dropped down to the “Super-Losers” bracket, after losing in the “Losers” bracket. After all that, they still had a shot at the final.

Peg Foo Young won another Golden Rule game, with Freyne netting the tying and winning goals.

“We managed to score one with one second left and then from there, we managed to win in the overtime. So we’re going up pretty high, I think we’re coming to the semi finals,” related Freyne.

“We lost one and we’ve won four games in the Loser’s bracket so we’re just climbing our way back up.”

Freyne said the weekend was a “big hit. Lots of people come by to check it out and it’s a lot of people just having a good positive time playing sports and hanging out.”

Barrel Sider organizer Meredith Pritchard also said the weekend was going great.

“We’ve been really fortunate. We’ve received a grant from the City of Whitehorse, recreation grant, so we were able to bring up two world famous, I will say, polo bike players, one who is from Mexico, Dev, and one from Portland, Birdie, who just competed at worlds in France, that offered some coaching sessions this past Thursday and Friday evening, which has been really great.”

Forty-two players were registered for the tourney. The players were organized into 14 teams and played at least three games each.

“My team has already played three games and we’ve had a great time. There are other bike polo tournaments out there that are a little bit competitive, but in Whitehorse, our main focus is on fun and building skills, so win or lose, it’s just about whether you have a great time or not.”

Half of the athletes were from out of town.

Half of the players were also women, transgender men, or non-binary players.

Eleven players came from Anchorage, nine from Vancouver, and two each Vancouver Island and Portland.

“Caution! Meadowlark Crossing” (Watts, Slater and Sealy) took the title. “I’d Rather Be Devouring Dumpster Nuts” (Chris Poland, Arthur Roots and Tara Fallat) were the runner-ups.

Pritchard added, “Bike polo is a really inclusive sport that Whitehorse Bike Polo plays every week.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to partner with Queer Yukon and offer a monthly Queer polo meet up for people that identify within the queer community umbrella and want to try out a team sport.”

That takes place the first or second Sunday of the month.

The Whitehorse Bike Polo Club plays every Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Liard Rink in Riverdale.

Info on the club can be found on Facebook and Instagram by searching for Whitehorse Bike Polo.

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