From left, Work to Ride mentor Richard Prather, teammates Kareem Rosser, Brandon Rease, and Daymar Rosser, and Work to Ride founder and coach Lezlie Hiner celebrate their win in the National Interscholastic Polo Championship. The team made history as the first African American team to win the championship for high school age players.
Photo credit: Sandra Sheldon
Philadelphia’s Work to Ride program made history March 13 when three of the students captured the National Interscholastic Polo Championship. The three, brothers Kareem and Daymar Rosser and Brandon Rease, were the first African American team to win the national polo title.
"Everyone is happy. We got a big win. I'm happy. The team is happy," said Daymar Rosser, a freshman at Valley Forge Military Academy.
"You know, not only did we do it for each other, but we did it for the polo community, and we did it for every other African American young boy who comes from where we come from," said Kareem Rosser, a senior at Valley Forge Military Academy and the team captain. "We wanted to let everyone know that it was possible, and that whatever you put your mind to, you can actually do."
Kareem, who joined the Work to Ride program at age 8 – his brother Daymar, nicknamed ‘Gerb’ for the Gerber baby, was just 6 -- was named the tournament’s top all-star. The boys won the Southeast Regional championship earlier in the month and entered the finals as the number two team in the nation. They trounced the Midland, TX team 24-8, and received a bye due to their second seed standing. They went on to beat Baltimore 24-17 at the finals in Charlottesville, VA to win the national title. Neither team had previously won a national title.
"(This win took) dedication, tenacity; it's all of these different qualities that it takes to be a successful human being," said Work to Ride founder and coach Lezlie Hiner. "It's gone from the kids learning a skill set and competing on a local level, to really putting some teeth into the sport and just really wanting to win the national title, and going for it."
"It's a big thing to have someone look up to us," said Kareem Rosser. "We just have to set the example and lead the way."
Engaging At Risk Kids
Founded in 1994, Work to Ride is a tremendously successful 501 c3 program which uses horses and horse sports in unique and innovative ways as a means to engage urban youth in wholesome, constructive activities. The program accepts male and female students ages 7 to 18.
WTR provides youngsters with a positive outlet for their energy and an alternative to negative "street" activities. Through active participation in WTR programs, young people acquire a variety of life skills. Participants develop discipline and responsibility by performing chores at the center in addition to their riding, training and horse care responsibilities. Not only do they earn riding time but they also develop skills to compete in any number of horse sports of their choosing. Self-esteem is increased through each stage of the program as participants achieve preset goals.
Shortly after the inception of the WTR program, it became apparent that the youth were extremely motivated and interested in the sport of polo. The speed of the horse and athletic ability of horse and rider combined with a competitive atmosphere produced an enthusiasm and commitment unmatched by any other horse sport. Students must maintain passing grades to play on the polo team, and the program’s volunteer tutors help them with schoolwork.
The trio along with Hiner has since received recognition far beyond the equestrian world. They were honored by Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter in a special ceremony. Mayor Nutter, whose daughter Olivia is a former Work to Ride student said, "When you are dedicated to something, you can accomplish anything you want, regardless of who you are or where you came from. If you fall down, you have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, a rule these young men live by and want other young people to follow in sports, but more importantly, in the classroom.” The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the win in its sports pages and the team was featured on the local ABC and NBC TV stations.
Kareem did a five minute phone interview on CNN’s What Matters on Friday, March 18. A crew from the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric was to arrive at Chamounix Equestrian Center, Work to Ride’s home base in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, on Tuesday, March 22. “They wanted to stay two days, but I told them I had to muck stalls all day Wednesday,” said Hiner, whose barn manager was on vacation.
On March 15, CNN’s blog Tuesday’s Intriguing People featured Twitter founder Biz Stone, media mogul Barry Diller, author Stephen King and Lezlie Hiner. The blog read, “The founder of West Philadelphia's Work to Ride program has been teaching polo to inner-city kids for 16 years. On Sunday, she led the first all African-American high school polo team to its first national victory. The team, which consists of captain Kareem Rosser, his brother Daymar and teammate Brandon Rease, has been working together over the last few years to become No. 1. It was no small feat, according to Hiner. "It's physical, it's fast, there's an element of danger involved in it because the kids are traveling at such high speeds," she said. The trio previously placed fifth at the national championship level.”
Scrimmaging at Colleges
How good are they? Hiner says they could hardly find worthy opponents at the high school level this year, so they scrimmaged with college teams like Harvard, Cornell, UConn, and University of Virginia. Kareem says they were supposed to be warm up games for those schools. "I guess it's funny because I think we're supposed to lose, so it's kind of funny that we end up winning or we end up with a close game," he said.
While fans can see Work to Ride’s future all stars playing outdoor polo most summer weekends at the Lancaster Polo Club in Rothsville, PA, the dream team will be out of town for most of the summer. Kareem will spend the outdoor polo season at a club in Patterson, NY, while Daymar and Brandon will work for Mark Gomez at Mashomack Polo Club in Lakeville, CT. Kareem, a straight A student, hopes to attend college at Cornell. And Brandon Rease, still just a sophomore, says he'd like to attend Georgetown.
The WTR program relies on the support of the general public for the majority of its operating funds. Other funding is derived from public riding lessons, horse boarding and summer camp. Horses used for the program are procured through a combination of purchase, lease and donation. To learn more visit www.worktoride.net.