May 10, 2022 9:54 PM

U.S. Open Polo Championship Trophy. ©David Lominska
U.S. Open Polo Championship Trophy. ©David Lominska

Held during the final week of the U.S. Open Polo Championship, the USPA Spring Committee and Board of Governors Meetings took place April 15-23. The meetings were held both virtually and in-person in West Palm Beach, Florida, at the Embassy Suites.

Kicking off the schedule of Zoom only meetings, Communications/Services presented on Friday, April 15, followed by two full days of committee meetings Monday, April 18 and Tuesday, April 19. Following the U.S. Open Polo Championship semifinals, attendees were invited to the Chairman’s Cocktail Reception held at the Mallet Grille on Wednesday, April 20, at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. On Thursday, April 14 and Friday, April 15, the Board, committee members, staff and USPA Members gathered for the remainder of the committee meetings and Zoom links were provided for those unable to attend in person. On Friday evening, guests were invited to the Polo Training Foundation (PTF)/USPA Awards reception at the Grand Champions Polo Club (Wellington, Florida) pavilion. The Board met on Saturday, April 23, for the Board of Governors Meeting and many stayed to watch the U.S. Open Polo Championship final conclude a historic season of GAUNTLET competition on Sunday, April 24.

Please find a recap of each committee meeting below:

Services Reports:

Arena Committee
The Arena Committee met on Thursday, April 21 and highlighted the growth and development of arena polo over the last few years. Hal Vita Sr. was named the 2022 Russ Sheldon Award recipient for his outstanding contributions to arena polo. The Arena Committee and Board of Governors approved the National Arena Amateur Cup Tournament Conditions as presented for official inclusion in the Rulebook. Players participating in the National Arena Amateur Cup will qualify through a point system and the top players will be invited and placed on a team by the Host Tournament Committee. The approved National Arena Amateur Cup Tournament Conditions can be found here.

©Sean Paul Franget.
©Sean Paul Franget.

Armed Forces Committee

The Armed Forces Committee approved Tournament Conditions for the National Outdoor Commander-in-Chief Cup to be enforced in 2024, subject to Board approval. These changes will require for all players to have served in the U.S. Armed Forces or Reserve Components to participate. The Committee reviewed the upcoming 2022 Military polo tournament schedule and reported on the success of military tournaments played since January. Colonel Marisa Tanner, U.S. Army (Retired) was the first woman to be awarded the General S. Patton Jr. Award. Tanner will be presented with her award during the Fall Board of Governors and Annual Member Meeting.

Audit Committee
The Board approved the addition of Charles G. Stanislawski, M.B.T., C.P.A. to the Audit Committee and appointed him as the new Audit Committee Chairperson.

USPA Chairman Stewart Armstrong and Northeastern Circuit Governor Leighton Jordan at the Chairman's Cocktail Reception in West Palm Beach, Florida.
USPA Chairman Stewart Armstrong and Northeastern Circuit Governor Leighton Jordan at the Chairman's Cocktail Reception in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Board and Staff Development Committee (BASDC)
The BASDC reviewed the Policies and Procedures book, specifically the Censure Policy. The Committee will review policies and procedures on a regular basis to ensure all policies and procedures are current as well as legally current. The Committee hopes to suggest “guard rail policy” for rare but unacceptable behaviors to submit to the Board. The BASDC Chairmanship will now have a tenure of five years as directed by USPA Chairman Stewart Armstrong. Mr. Peter Rizzo departed as BASDC Chairperson and Mr. Leighton Jordan was installed. The Committee successfully moved that Leighton Jordan become the Chairperson of the BASDC at the conclusion of the meeting and the Board approved.

COO/In-House Counsel Chris Green offered two items that will be addressed to the staff: professional and leadership training and the possible expansion of benefits which may include parental leave.

USPA Membership and Handicap Director Lindsay Dolan, Arena Umpire Director Bradley Biddle, and Director of Governance and Operations Lindsey Ebersbach.
USPA Membership and Handicap Director Lindsay Dolan, Arena Umpire Director Bradley Biddle, and Director of Governance and Operations Lindsey Ebersbach.

Club and Membership Administration Committee (CMAC)
The Club and Membership Administration Committee met on Thursday, April 21. The meeting addressed the current club compliance list and discussed which clubs qualified to be raised from Provisional to Active, which would be dropped from Active to Provisional and which would be terminated if not compliant by May 1, 2022. Two new club applications were approved, and it was decided that they would both be presented to the Executive Committee at their next meeting. A discussion was held regarding making an amendment to the USPA Club Application which would change the wording from “approve” to “endorse” in regards to the Circuit Governor. The final discussion of the meeting was to start planning on conducting circuit reviews every six years to determine if circuits need to be adjusted based on critical criteria determined by the committee. The Board also approved the Club Compliance list which can be found here.

Constitution Committee
The Constitution Committee met and discussed several Constitution, By Law, and Policy concepts for potential amendment, including Officer term limits, virtual ballots for Officer election, Circuit boundary reviews, and more. The committee will meet throughout the summer to further discuss and will present proposed revisions for approval in the fall.

Equine Welfare Committee
The Equine Welfare Committee met on Friday, April 22, to discuss the current contributions the committee makes to the American Horse Council, United Horse Coalition and Equine Disease Communication Center. The American Horse Council has asked for support with their 2023 Economic Impact Study and the committee agreed to support it so long as polo is listed within the survey. A report was made on the status of the Equine Drugs and Medications Testing Program. So far this year, three games have been tested and the plan is to test at a variety of events and locations throughout the summer and fall. It was suggested that the Committee look into the formation of an LLC to function similarly to the USPA Umpires, LLC, to run the Equine Drugs and Medications Program. Western Regional Umpire Director, Fergus Gould, concluded the meeting with a review of Equine Welfare related rules and explanation of how the umpires call them during games.

Nominating Committee
The Nominating Committee appointed Southwestern Circuit Governor Paul Jornayvaz as the Nominating Committee Chairperson.

Active Team USPA Member Timmy Dutta competed for Dutta Corp/Show + in the 2022 GAUNTLET OF POLO. ©David Lominska
Active Team USPA Member Timmy Dutta competed for Dutta Corp/Show + in the 2022 GAUNTLET OF POLO. ©David Lominska

Rules Committee
The Rules Committee met on Thursday, April 21, and COO/In-House Counsel Chris Green introduced Haley Bryan as the newest committee member. The committee discussed the proposed revisions to the American Rule. The amendment to the American Rule was approved by the Board of Governors during the Saturday, April 23, Board of Governors meeting. Created to benefit American players, the key changes require that a team with a non-playing sponsor must have at least two players who are Registered Player Members and any non-injury substitute for a playing or designated sponsor must be a Registered Player Member. The changes will not go into effect until January 1, 2023, but the Association has released the information to the membership to allow teams plenty of time to plan for next year.

Additionally, the Rules Committee discussed proposed changes to the Substitution Rule to clarify the current language. The Rules Committee will continue to work over the summer on the revisions to this and other rules to present to the Board in the fall for 2023 implementation.

Governor-at-Large Tom Gose was appointed as the new Rules Committee Chairperson. Daniel Scheraga was appointed internally as the Arena Rules Subcommittee Chairperson.

Safety Committee
The Safety Committee met on Friday, April 22, and discussed creating an inclement weather policy/procedure. Ms. Robin Sanchez previously conducted research and the details she compiled as well as information from the Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) program, the United States Equestrian Federation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be used to create a policy/procedure for clubs to use. The second topic discussed was the creation of Return to Play guidelines for members who have potentially sustained a head injury during a fall. The I/I and National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) programs already have some procedures in place and these will be used to create guidelines.

Stephen Alexander from Casablanca provided an update to those in attendance regarding the magnetic clasp on the Casablanca NEU helmet. Mr. Alexander informed all in attendance that the traditional Fastex clasp is in the testing phase and once approval is received they will be offering to replace clasps on existing helmets and use this clasp as the default on all new helmets. Casablanca is also working on an informational video explaining proper fit and strap adjustment for their helmets.

Florida Circuit Governor Stevie Orthwein and USPA Umpires LLC Executive Director Charlie Muldoon.
Florida Circuit Governor Stephen Orthwein Jr. and USPA Umpires LLC Executive Director Charlie Muldoon.

Tournament Committee
The Tournament Committee and Board approved 47 2022 and 2023 National and Sanctioned Tournament applications. The decision to award the 2023 Northrup Knox Cup was tabled to allow time to gather additional information. The Board also approved Florida Circuit Governor Stephen Orthwein Jr. as the new Tournament Committee Chairperson.

Women’s Committee
The USPA Women's Committee announced that Governor-at-Large Robin Sanchez has been awarded the 2022 Louise Hitchcock Woman of the Year Award. They also discussed the success of the 2021 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship which for the first time in history awarded $40,000 in total tournament prize money. The committee made a recommendation to the Board of Governors to raise the handicap level from 18- to 22-goals to 18- to 24-goals in 2023 and include a handicap bracket for eliminated teams. This recommendation will be discussed further with the Host Tournament Committee of the 2023 event.

2022 U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship winners Hawaii Polo Life took home $30,000 of the available prize money. ©David Lominska
2022 U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship winners Hawaii Polo Life took home $30,000 of the available prize money. ©David Lominska

USPA Marketing/Communications Report:
Director of Communications, Matt Baran, introduced Editor and Publisher, Gwen Rizzo, and Communications Coordinator, Madelyn Blum, who joined the department in 2022. As regular improvements and feature updates continue to be made across, the department highlighted a 28% increase in unique visitors with 730,000 since this time last year. Also unveiled in February 2022, the new POLO Magazine has been redesigned to align with USPA digital and communications strategies. For example, the Polo Report now highlights USPA tournaments for more emphasis and exposure. Also launching with a facelift in 2022, the new “This Week In Polo” template has been well received, boasting a 51% Open Rate. The template includes a variety of new modules including a GAUNTLET and dedicated USPA tournament results section.

Continuing to grow social media channels with elevated content, there has been a 27% increase in total new followers across all platforms since last year’s Spring meetings and total engagements have also increased by 40%, 26% specifically from Instagram. Reels, short videos on Instagram, exceeded expectations and performed incredibly allowing the USPA to rapidly reach new audiences and steadily gain more followers.

With an unprecedented number of games in the 2022 Florida season, weekly production meetings have continued to raise the quality of livestreamed games. Armed with extensive tournament and player insight, semifinal and final horse lists and additional statistics, the announcers have brought greater depth to the broadcast for both existing and new viewers. Also, preparing for the XII FIP World Polo Championship, the USPA has partnered with Running Iron Creative to begin filming a three-episode FIP Docuseries ahead of the international competition this fall.

To view the Communications Department presentation please click here.

USPA Umpires, LLC Report:

The Umpires LLC outlined the expansion of their existing programs and the addition of new initiatives. Executive Director, Charlie Muldoon, spoke about the improvements in standards of umpiring and professionalism due in large part to the first umpire training camp held in Indian Wells, California, December 2021.

Mr. Muldoon also described the unprecedented demand for professional umpire services at all levels of polo across the country. Umpires traveled to over 90 clubs last year and are already umpiring in excess of 1,000 games in 2022 to date, putting the umpires LLC on pace to easily eclipse last year’s record number of games officiated.

Umpire at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. ©David Lominska
Umpire at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. ©David Lominska

Arena Umpire Director, Bradley Biddle, emphasized the explosion in growth of arena polo and explained that an initiative to classify Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) umpires with “P” ratings to acknowledge them as professional umpires had been put in place. Furthermore many of the arena umpires are being trained to transition to grass polo as professional umpires.

Western Regional Umpire Director, Fergus Gould, demonstrated the advancements in technology that will allow for greater streamlining of umpire services being provided to clubs and members. International Polo Academy (IPA) using the Dartfish platform will be able to provide a multi-angle stream of games in real-time with the capabilities of replay and slow motion. This will be accessible by the third man at the field for greater accuracy of decision making.The PoloSK app is able to handle tournament and umpire schedules along with tracking yellow and red cards. Work is ongoing to integrate with the tournament and membership databases to provide a reliable up-to-date flow of information.

The Umpires LLC also expressed their sincere appreciation to Governor-at-Large Tom Gose who stepped down as Umpires LLC Advisory Committee Chairperson. Great Plains Circuit Governor Mike Carney was appointed as the new Chairperson.

Polo Development LLC:
On Monday, April 18, the USPA Polo Development, LLC, held its Spring 2022 presentation via Zoom. Over 50 individuals joined the Zoom session and the Polo Development team reviewed and presented updates and “next steps” for the following Advisory Committees under the umbrella of Polo Development: Team USPA, Junior Polo, Intercollegiate/Interscholastic and the Polo Development Initiative.

Team USPA Committee Chair Mason Wroe updated the group on current Team USPA members, many of which competed in the 2022 GAUNTLET OF POLO. The committee is entering the fourth year of their strategic shift toward developing higher-rated young American players utilizing the benchmark of 4- to 5-goals (outdoors) by 22 years of age. Moving forward, Team USPA will be completing their 2022 selections and move forward with funding training opportunities such as fall training in Argentina.

Active Team USPA Member Kristos "Keko" Magrini and Hilario Figueras competing in the U.S. Junior Open Test Match at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. ©David Lominska
Active Team USPA Member Kristos "Keko" Magrini and Hilario Figueras competing in the U.S. Junior Open Test Match at International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. ©David Lominska

In Junior Polo, Amanda Snow, Director of Player Development, guided those in attendance through plans for the 2022 National Youth Tournament Series Championships which will feature four open teams and four dedicated women’s teams. The championships will take place at La Herradura Polo Club LLC, in Santa Ynez, California, September 2022. Also, 2022 saw the relaunch of the Young Player Opportunity Grant which provides funding for American youth 19 and under to use for opportunities that will cultivate, train, develop and educate. Coming to fruition in 2022, the inaugural U.S. Junior Open Test Match was played January in Wellington, Florida, with the goal of establishing a National U.S. Junior Open tournament in 2023.

In I/I, Liz Brayboy, Chair of the I/I Polo Committee, gave a brief update on the return to tournament polo for intercollegiate players. Later in the week, the I/I Committee hosted a stand-alone meeting to discuss the implementation of the Division II nationals (launched in 2022), future program and coach support development, and how best to balance the tournament offerings of the Open National Interscholastic Championship, Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship, National Intercollegiate Championship Divison I and II with the overall development and growth of the sport in the Intercollegiate/Interscholastic program.

Mr. Bob McMurtry, Polo Development Initiative (PDI) Committee Chairman, reflected on the impact the PDI program (now in its fourth year of Capital Improvements) has made on the critical infrastructure needed to develop the sport of polo. Over four years, the PDI program has partially supported infrastructure projects estimated in total at over $6 million dollars. Mr. McMurtry closed his presentation with a goal to expand the PDI Program to a $1 million dollar budget in 2023 and explore the potential of micro financing in the future.

Finally, Mr. Justin Powers, Executive Director of Polo Development, introduced the International Polo Academy (IPA). IPA has developed a Player Development App which can be utilized by both players and instructors. They have also been working on a beta test with Powers and a select group of instructors and during the presentation walked the guests through their app. The app’s full utilization will be discussed and explored in Polo Development moving into the second half of 2022.

New Business:
Chairman Armstrong announced that there will be 12 Governor-at-Large seats available for the 2023 election. It was announced that the Fall Board of Governors Meeting will take place on November 5, in Wellington, Florida, prior to the FIP World Polo Championship final.