Polo, picnics, parties... and elemental disaster. Brandywine Polo Club has been an influential social highlight in Chester County since 1950 and has become not only a beacon of inspiration, but also of determination as they strive to rebuild yet again.
In 1966, lightning struck the clubhouse and the consequent fire spread to two wooden barns nearby, including the school barn where 27 lesson ponies were stabled. Nine were successfully rescued; seven were badly burned and needed medical attention at the New Bolton Center. Eighteen died immediately. In memory of the polo ponies who did not survive the fire, the club hosted the first annual “Polo Ponies Memorial” where the local community turned out en masse in support. With the proceeds from over 5,000 spectators, Brandywine Polo Club was able to rebuild both barns with fire-resistant concrete cinderblock. For the past 45 years, the barns have held steady while polo players up and down the East Coast compete every August in the “Polo Ponies Memorial Tournament” in remembrance of that tragic fire.
On April 19th, 2013, another elemental disaster struck the school barn—not a fire, but a tornado-like straight line wind shear that ripped off the roof, knocked down the announcer’s stand, and scattered debris (including dangerously sharp aluminum nails) over a half mile of the property. Thirty-three stalls are unusable and the lesson ponies are spread across several on- and off-site locations. While not prohibiting the polo season, the club has been scrambling to make-do with improvised stabling. Like in ’66, the local community has joined together to help. Polo students, club staff, lacrosse players who share the field and other community members toiled for weeks to assist in the clean-up. A local metal detector club lent their services and made short work of the strewn aluminum nails that would have taken weeks, if not months, to pick up by hand. The grounds are looking much better, but the school barn still needs to be rebuilt, again.
Enter the Polo Ball, a fundraising gala hosted by the Brandywine Polo Club on August 30th, 2013, the night before the Gerald Balding polo tournament. With the tagline ‘Help Us Raise the Roof!’, 160 party-goers dressed for the Gatsby-themed revelry at the Yellow House of Willowdale. Spokeswoman Ellen Tracy said that the fundraiser, sponsored by Outback Steakhouse, was “extremely successful” with groups traveling from as far as Mississippi, Florida, and New York. With the weather on their side, the Polo Ball featured both a live and silent auction, dinner, dancing, and guests thoroughly enjoyed themselves with the 1920’s costume element. After jazzing it up with authentic period music, patrons could sample a specialty cocktail, “the Tornado”, a Revolutionary War recipe that garnered rave reviews.
Because of the success of the fundraiser, the Brandywine Polo Club is now able to consider contractor bids. However, they did not quite reach their $100,000+ goal needed to fully repair the barn and are still accepting donations. The construction is expected to last throughout the winter but should be finished in time for the spring season. In the meantime, Brandywine Polo Club is going back to the drawing board to raise the last necessary funds and continuing to shine brightly despite their hardships.
Visit www.BrandywinePolo.com for photos and more details of the damage. Contact Ellen Tracey at (610) 388-7758 to donate.