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DALE SCHWETZ: A FORCE FROM THE SIDELINES

Oct 08, 2019 9:06 AM

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Schwetz during the North American Cup® ©Aspen Valley Polo Club
Schwetz at the North American Cup® ©Aspen Valley Polo Club

Transmitting his knowledge from the field across the devices of viewers from every corner of the globe, USPA Polo Network fieldside correspondent Dale Schwetz enables even the newest fans to experience polo through the lens of a seasoned pro. Playing with and against many of the top players in the world, Schwetz reached a 5-goal handicap, inscribing his name on many prestigious trophies including the C.V. Whitney Cup, Monty Waterbury, Silver Cup® and the National Copper Cup®. Recruited to become a certified umpire by former Head Umpire Tom Hughes, Schwetz umpired for over a decade and won multiple awards (2009 Umpire of the Year, 2014 Thomas Hughes Umpire Award) before dedicating himself to broadcasting full time.

Originally from Miami Beach, Florida, and growing up in Boca Raton, the South Florida native is a self-proclaimed sports fanatic, especially when it comes to water sports. Self-taught as a broadcaster, Schwetz used his business degree from Florida Atlantic University to accelerate his entrepreneurial interests, founding Polo Star and Energy Gangster. Bringing a high level of energy to everything that he does, Schwetz has had the opportunity to interview players from coast to coast since 2015. Catching up with Schwetz after a summer of traveling with his wife Stephanie in their RV, the USPA gained some insight into his journey from the field to the microphone.

Dale Schwetz interviewing Marc Ganzi
Dale Schwetz interviewing Marc Ganzi at Aspen Valley Polo Club. ©Nick Tininenko

“I want all the players featured on the broadcast to understand that this is their platform too; it’s their opportunity to build their brands. We did not have the technology or cameras to do that when I was playing professionally so it’s nice for them to be able to take advantage of the opportunity.”  – Dale Schwetz

What is your equestrian background and how did you become involved in polo?

“My parents were both equestrians and they were good friends with the Linfoots. I started riding when I was eight years old at the Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton, Florida. Corky and Kathy Linfoot were the first ones to introduce my brother Darrell and I to the game of polo. I loved sports and was still playing baseball, football and soccer, but I rode horses all the time. I had the opportunity to attend Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, and that took me into my playing career. I was a member of the Black Horse Troop and won three Open National Interscholastic Championships in 1982, 1983 and 1985.

Culver’s equine program is very unique and diversified because they require you to learn all the different disciplines to graduate. For me the ability to ride dressage, jump and a play polo gave me the skills to quickly become a polo professional because I learned how to ride very well as a high school student. Learning multiple disciplines really strengthens your riding ability to another level and the experience was a great foundation for my career. By the time I was 16 years old I was rated 2-goals outdoor. My strong riding ability helped out tremendously when I started playing with my brother and young pros because I had the ability to ride as well as any of them.”

Schwetz preparing to take a shot

How did you transition from playing professionally into announcing?

“I’ve always had a knack for the mic. I love music and as a hobby I am a songwriter and sing rap music for fun. Melissa Ganzi knew that about me because we’ve been friends for a long time, so that’s actually how I segued into announcing. Melissa started giving me the mic at Grand Champions Polo Club where I was working as a professional umpire and player. She asked me to announce kids games and 40 kids showed up for the first game I announced. It was a memorable day and although I had never announced before, it was fun. I ended up being the go-to guy for kids games and that was how it started.

In 2014 I was umpiring at Mashomack Polo Club [Millbrook, New York]. The ChukkerTV crew, based out of Grand Champions Polo Club, was deploying replay to an outside club for the first time and that’s where it all began. I worked as the umpire, Toby Wayman was announcing, Mike Ferriera was in charge of production and replay, and my wife was filming on the main camera.

When we returned to Florida I was working for ChukkerTV and umpiring. After discussing it with [Executive Director of USPA Umpires, LLC] Charlie Muldoon I decided to leave umpiring and work for ChukkerTV full-time in 2015. I was one of the top umpires at the time so when I left I had the team’s blessing to use my knowledge for broadcasting. I felt the livestreaming platform was very important to the future of polo and the umpires understood the evolving needs of the game that the platform would fulfill.”

How has your playing and umpiring knowledge helped or influenced your analysis and commentary?

“Being around the top players in the sport for 20 years gives you a true understanding of the field from a player’s perspective. On the flip side working as a professional umpire for the USPA Umpires, LLC, in what I believe to be the best training program in the world, I have the best of both worlds. When I’m announcing a game I understand and have a lot of respect for both sides because I can relate to what players and umpires each go through.

One thing I learned from playing with Memo Gracida was the importance of video. Memo had a lot of game tapes so as a young 3-goal player I was watching tapes constantly. I think the more that you watch the tapes the more you understand the angles. At that time I did not know 20 years later it would come into play. Being a professional umpire gave me the verbiage to be able to explain a foul not just to a player but to a novice watching the game.”

Dale umpiring on a Valiente horse
Schwetz umpiring a game on a Valiente horse.

How do you prepare for a USPA Polo Network broadcast?

“When I prepare, I like to keep it fresh; I’ve learned through my mentors that you don’t want too much to be scripted. There are some parts that need to be scripted and others that are better left off the cuff. You have to keep an energy up on camera. Not only was I very new to broadcasting, but all the players are new to being on the broadcast. Players were not doing interviews previously, but now they are doing them on a regular basis. When I do fieldside interviews I try to keep the players involved outside the camera and I try to prepare outside by talking to them and making them feel more comfortable.”

Who has influenced your commentating style?

“I use Tommy Oxley’s phrase a lot, ‘the clock goes tick, tick, tick’ because he was one of the first announcers I grew up listening to as a kid since his family owned Royal Palm Polo Club. I think everyone who announces polo has their own quality which does well for them and I’ve used the qualities I liked and blended them together. I’ve also learned from Toby Wayman, Tony Coppola, Gus Whitelaw and others who have a really cool style. One of the guys from NBC Sports told Toby and I when they were coaching us for the U.S. Open Polo Championship® to ‘attack your style and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The knowledge that you already have is the hardest part to learn so to perfect timing and delivery you just have to get out there and do it.’

I thrive on the educational component and teaching viewers about the game because I want to make sure they understand the rule of the foul. I take a lot of pride in the analytics and that may be boring to some, but we need to better understand the rules for the game to grow. My style is upbeat and energetic because I am passionate about the sport. If you are going to explain something to people and you want them to enjoy listening and stay engaged then you have to be into it yourself.”

“I understand the importance of the responsibility for the platforms which I have the opportunity to work with. There is a lot of responsibility involved with livestreaming due to the influx of players and growth of the sport so it is my goal is to present the game in a positive light as it is taken into the mainstream. It feels great to be able to watch the games so I hope that energy translates to the USPA Polo Network viewership.”

Announcing a game fieldside with
Announcing a game fieldside, pictured with ChukkerTV's audio engineer Harry James Zafiris.

What is the biggest difference you’ve seen in polo over the years from both ends of the spectrum?

“When I was a kid the availability to play polo was not there, but now there are polo schools all over the nation. Over the years I watched players and teams become more athletic with the addition of trainers and coaches and saw the dynamics of a regular team sport introduced to polo. The development of the equipment has also improved and the dynamics of the game seriously changed with an emphasis on breeding horses specifically for polo.

The amount of players that are out there has grown and I think a big part of that growth is due to the technology and the young kids having more opportunities to play. There are pros and cons, but overall it’s still going to help the game by giving us the ability to introduce the game to new audiences. People are watching worldwide and since the livestreaming platform is pretty big and it’s going to get increasingly better. All the camera angles from the drone, endzone and slow-motion cameras create a better overall viewing perspective. They have so many tools now that will help players and umpires get better and make it a safer game for the horses too.”

How have you enjoyed working alongside your wife at ChukkerTV?

“I enjoy working in the same office as Stephanie, a lot of people probably couldn’t do that, but her and I are really good friends so it works well for us. When I started playing polo we didn’t have videographers then so Stephanie began just filming for us. As a couple we’ve grown together with the sport and she’s grown to be a 10-goal videographer because she understands the rules of the game very well. She’s actually been with ChukkerTV longer than I have and it’s been a great process of learning over the years. To be able to travel and work together has really been a blessing for us and we love every bit of it.”

Schwetz interviewing USPA CEO Bob Puetz.
Schwetz interviewing USPA CEO Bob Puetz. ©Nick Tininenko

What makes polo stand out above other equestrian disciplines?

“Polo is not just a speed game, it’s a chess game if you have the ability to read the field. I think that’s why it’s so interesting to people when they play it because they are constantly learning the game of polo each time they step onto the field. Even when you learn how to hit the ball and ride there is so much to think about and you have to do it at 25-35 miles per hour.

I love the idea of having a string of horses and having relationships with the horses. Each time I got on a different horse I knew we could do different plays based on the ability of that individual horse. They have become a big part of my life and I feel very fortunate to be a part of the polo community and share my love of the sport.”

USPA

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