When you think of polo, the images that come to mind usually evoke the likes of princes and their aristocratic cohorts. Yet for the past two seasons, the program which has won the National Interscholastic Polo Championship was comprised of teenagers from backgrounds about as far from Prince Harry as possible: They're all natives of inner-city Philadelphia.
As reported extensively by CNN, ESPN and a handful of other sources, the Work To Ride team has emerged as the strongest force in American scholastic polo, using a not-for-profit program based out of the stables at Philadelphia's Fairmount Park as the basis for the kind of class-bending success usually reserved for a Disney fairytale script.
To win the 2012 crown in March, the Work To Ride squad had to knock off a perennial blueblood squad, California's El Dorado, at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. While the championship match was a tight-fought contest, Work To Ride eventually emerged victorious after a double-overtime shootout, locking up back-to-back prestigious national polo titles for the least likely victors of all.
"You couldn't have written a movie any better than what that was," Work To Ride Executive Director Leslie Hiner told CNN's Sarah Hoye. "It was so clutch."
The predominant story lines behind Work To Ride's stunning success could sound trite and disingenuous -- kids from the mean streets make good -- if they weren't so overwhelmingly apparent when watching the team compete, as you can in the CNN video above. By playing polo, and working together to clean the stables for the opportunity to compete in the sport they love, Work To Ride has emerged as a transformative force for some of the roughest parts of Philadelphia since it was founded in 1994.A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it.
What makes the team's competitive success all the more amazing is Work To Ride's lack of actual polo facilities. The team doesn't have a traditional polo arena, so it can only practice the sport in any sort of an official capacity when it has games.
"Sometimes [Work To Ride has games] once a week," Hiner told CNN. "Sometimes it's twice a week. Sometimes there might not be a game for a couple of weeks. So really, to be able to hone their skills, it's basically done on an ad hoc basis."
You wouldn't know that from Work To Ride's sterling results, which have seen the program land national attention for becoming the first all-black high school team to win a polo national title (the entire squads which won the 2011 and 2012 national titles happened to be African American). Based on the program's trajectory, and it's growing crop of incoming youth -- it incorporates all children aged 7 to 19 in different aspects of its program -- there is no reason to believe that Work To Ride's success will ebb anytime soon.