American Polo Pioneer
LA Equestrian Center Hosts Precedent-Setting USPA Tournament
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Sue Sally Hale
The sixteenth U.S. Arena Open Championship will be remembered for two reasons; where it was played and who took part in it. The notation in future USPA Blue Books probably will say simply "1986 Burbank Equestrian (Dan Healy, Joel Baker, John Kuhn 11; Commancheros 10" . But it deserves an asterisk. "First Arena Open held on the West Coast, first to feature women players.
Both facts mirror new trends. After its birth and growth on the East coast, indoor polo has been reborn in the West, where more and more women players are cutting their polo teeth in the arena. When four teams competed for the 1986 U.S. Arena Open Championship - the highest-rated USPA indoor tournament - at Los Angeles Equestrian Center last December, two featured women players. Sue Sally Hale and her daughter Sunny became the first women to compete in Arena Open Competition.
Besides its historic implications, the 1986 Arena Open and Handicap had drama all its own. Tom Goodspeed's Commancheros battled some difficult odds to reach the open final and then very nearly upset a team that outranked them by seven goals. The Commancheros were to enter the tournament at 18 goals, but a week before play began one team member had to withdraw. The reorganized Commancheros were four goals lighter with Goodspeed, Mark Cruse and Sunny Hale. In the first round they downed 17-goal Victory Saddle (Will Nash, Arthur Ramos and Joe Henderson).
Seven-goaler Henderson, weeks away from being raised to 9, scored 10 goals for Victory Saddle but Commancheros held on in the second half to win 14-13. "We've won a victory, but will probably lose the war." Goodspeed remarked afterward in reference to his team's next opponent, Burbank Equestrian.
Led by 6-goaler Dan Healy, Burbank was 21 goals strong with John Kuhn (7) and Joel Baker (8). They got off to a shaky start against Chante Claire's Sue Sally Hale (2), Ronnie Tongg (8) and Dennis Breen (4). After amassing a 10-4 lead in three chukkers, Burbank was outscored in the final chukker but preserved a 12-9 victory to earn a spot in the final. The consolation final between Victory Saddle and Chante Claire was for the U.S. Arena Handicap title, which victory won 14-6.
The Match for the Arena Open Championship was, as Goodspeed had predicted. Commancheros, seven-goal underdogs on the flat, nonetheless proved themselves worthy opponents. After a 3-3 first chukker, Burbank edged ahead in the second on a pair of goals by Healy and one from Kuhn. Down 6-4 at halftime, Commancheros regained the lead in the third period as Cruse scored twice and Goodspeed thrice to Burbank's one tally.
The underdogs held a lead until the last two minutes of the game. Baker's penalty conversion gave Burbank a 10-10 tie and set up a dramatic conclusion. Goodspeed sent a shot past Healy for an apparent goal but the play was nullified when a foul was called on Goodspeed. Burbank capitalized on its opportunity to move in front as Baker converted his foul shot with 30 seconds left.
Goodspeed took the throw-in and narrowly missed a near-side neckshot. With the ball sitting in the goalmouth inches away from a tie game, all six players converged and Baker jumped out with it. The bell sounded and Burbank walked away with an 11-10 victory.
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