Oct 12, 2021 12:00 PM
Leaning into rich historical traditions and friendly competition, USPA Armed Forces (Petty Officer Alex Jenkins, U.S. Navy Reserve, Major Cindy Stephenson, Lieutenant Junior Grade Rob DiRado, U.S. Coast Guard) and British Armed Forces (Captain Albany Mulholland, Captain James Cochrane-Dyet, Lieutenant Colonel Peter R.L. Hunter) met in the Churchill-Roosevelt Cup for the second time since its debut in 2019. The Churchill-Roosevelt Cup honors the famed legacies of each respective military leader by assembling military affiliated polo players from across the United States and the United Kingdom for the purposes of camaraderie and sport. Not to be deterred by days of heavy rain, USPA Armed Forces forged ahead and began the International Arena Showcase on Saturday, October 9 at New Bridge Polo & Country Club, garnering their second consecutive Churchill-Roosevelt Cup victory over British Armed Forces 11-8. As the official apparel sponsor of team USA, U.S. Polo Assn. proudly outfitted both American teams with jerseys and saddle pads.
“This is great team and morale building, something to do outside of the military but also as part of a military team. It’s a good way to represent ourselves in a different venue, on a different platform.” – Major Cindy Stephenson
The British Armed Forces ignited the scoring in the first, Mulholland sinking two consecutive goals, countered by a solitary goal from Jenkins to put USPA Armed Forces on the board. Active-duty Army Major Cindy Stephenson found the goal mouth first for USPA Armed Forces in the beginning of the second chukker. Stephenson, who had taken a hiatus from polo since attending the University of Southern California in the early nineties was recently re-introduced to polo through her current studies at the College of Naval Command & Staff at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. After competing in the college’s President’s Cup for polo, Stephenson was connected with USPA Armed Forces Committee Chair Mark Gillespie with an invitation to compete in the Churchill-Roosevelt Cup. Stephenson’s polo abilities had not faded with time and she quickly adapted to her brand-new teammates. “I had not met my teammates until yesterday,” Stephenson relayed. “Our strategy was to back each other up as best we could and play a good, clean game.”
Clean play was apparent in the second chukker, as USPA Armed Forces solidified their defense and shutout British Armed Forces from the scoreboard. Jenkins, a member of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Washington, D.C. was able to sink two more goals for USPA Armed Forces to double up the lead at halftime 4-2. “I’m in the Navy,” said Jenkins. “I work in the intel community. I’m grateful my unit was letting me take time to do this.”
Emerging from the half, USPA Armed Forces continued their offensive surge, all three team members adding to the tally. Familiarity aided Jenkins and active-duty Coast Guardsman Rob DiRado, recent teammates and 2021 National Arena Commander-In-Chief Cup Champions at Virginia Polo, Inc. in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I’m fortunate. Aiken [South Carolina] is where I play polo,” DiRado expressed. “I was able to play on horses that I had played before. I’ve played with Alex [Jenkins], we only had to work Cindy [Stephenson] into our strategy [and] she did fantastic! She knocked in penalties and scored goals from the field.” The newly-formed trio combined for five goals in the third chukker and a breakthrough on the scoreboard for USPA Armed Forces.
Mulholland answered with two goals for British Armed Forces, including a Penalty 2 conversion but not without some friendly gamesmanship from the opposing side, Jenkins playfully teasing, “Prince Harry is watching you!” Trailing by five goals in the fourth, British Armed Forces lucked out with a pony goal in the opening moments of the final chukker, followed by Hunter’s first goal of the game. Mulholland continued to lead his team valiantly, contributing back-to-back goals for a four-goal chukker. While British Armed Forces outscored their opponents for the second time, it was not enough to overcome their second and third chukker deficit. DiRado and Jenkins combined for another two goals, as USPA Armed Forces successfully defended the Churchill-Roosevelt Cup title 11-8.
Battling both the logistics of organizing an international tournament during a pandemic and the weather, the Churchill-Roosevelt Cup was able to be played as scheduled, however rain in the days leading up to the competition prevented both teams from practicing. Despite this hurdle, both teams were able to unite under the honor of service and passion for polo. USPA Armed Forces Committee Chair Mark Gillespie who oversaw the organization of the event was ecstatic to see the dedication put into the Churchill-Roosevelt pay off. “It’s always entertaining getting international matches going, with COVID it’s even more entertaining. The most fun was getting Lieutenant Colonel Peter Hunter over from the U.K., we had to do some wrangling and broke the code that the fourth estate was the way to get him here.”
Competitors from both USPA Armed Forces and British Armed Forces were able to bond in both the similarities of their respective careers and talents. “It’s not so much the winning, it’s being able to play and have fun with the other team,” said Jenkins. DiRado also expressed similar sentiments after celebrating the win. “This is not my first time playing with the British Armed Forces,” said DiRado. “I was stationed abroad on an exchange with the United Kingdom Royal Navy. I played with the U.K. Navy team [and] against the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and their Air Force as well. It’s good to see some of these guys again stateside. It’s an honor for the USPA to have selected me for this. It was a lot of fun. I was glad we got to keep the Churchill-Roosevelt honor alive.”
For Stephenson spreading awareness to military affiliated members about events the USPA has to offer to those who want to participate in polo is crucial. “They should know the opportunity is there. I had an excellent time out there. I think our British counterparts brought an excellent game. They brought some great talent and fun to the field today.” As the only female polo player in the tournament, Stephenson sought to inspire fellow military affiliated female polo players, “get involved! This is great team and morale building, something to do outside of the military, but also as part of a military team. It’s a good way to represent ourselves in a different venue, on a different platform.”
Scoring six goals for the British Armed Forces, Albany Mulholland was named Most Valuable Player. Mulholland who is based out of Boston, Masachusetts and a 2012 intercollegiate Harvard graduate frequently lends his coaching support to current students. Due to travel restrictions, Mulholland was able to enlist close friend and fellow Army rider James Cochrane-Dyet to take polo lessons and join the team. The Churchill-Roosevelt Cup serving as his first polo tournament, Mulholland beamed with gratitude for Cochrane-Dyet's participation, “he was thrown into the deep end and did great.” The success of the Churchill-Roosevelt-Cup could not have been possible without the dedication of many who make international tournaments possible, and Mulholland also shared his appreciation, “a big thank you to the USPA, to the military team that has hosted us, to the pony providers, the grooms and everyone who’s been so welcoming.”
Best Playing Pony was awarded to Sonoma (Daddy Warbucks x Bay View), a six-year-old homebred chestnut mare played by Alex Jenkins in the third chukker and owned by Del Walton. Impressed by her abilities, Jenkins was able to display some of his own talents sharing, “she let me hit ball in the air!”
All photos courtesy of ©Shelly Marshall Schmidt.
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More