Sunday, December 6, 2009

Paul Fortugno Memorial Polo Tournament

The first annual Paul Fortugno Memorial Polo Tournament took over the fields of the Wagener Polo Club from October 14 to 25, attracting four competitive 6-goal teams. The purpose of the tournament was to honor the memory of Paul Fortugno, who grew up playing on his family’s Mallet Hill team along with his younger brother Gene and his father Fred. Paul, who attained a rating of 6 goals, had a reputation of being one of the nicest people in polo. Back in the 1960s and 70s, the Mallet Hill team, based in Pennsylvania in the summer months, was a regular on Aiken’s polo fields during the winter. By the 1980s, the family had moved their winter polo operation to Florida. Paul’s polo career took him to the Florida circuit and to Nashville, Tn, where he died in 2007 while still in his 40s. Today, Gene and Fred can both be found back in Aiken during the polo season.

The tournament format called for all the teams to play one another and then for the two with the best records to compete in the finals. The top two teams were Polo Cops (Kathie Roberts, Scott Brown, Geoff Cameron, Tim Zekany) and Tandem (Paul Shealy, Pam Gleason, Billy Raab, Gabriel Caro.) The Tandem team came to the finals undefeated. The Polo Cops team had lost their game against Tandem, but had beaten the other teams in decisive fashion.

After a warm and sunny autumn, the morning of the finals felt like the first taste of winter. With a cold wind blowing and skies threatening to rain, the players took to the field. It quickly became clear that the Tandem team, which had won all its previous games by margins of at least five goals, was not ready to quit. They emerged the victors after four hard-fought chukkers. Geoff Cameron of Polo Cops was named the Most Valuable Player, while Billy Raab’s horse Pinta took home the Best Playing Pony blanket. Fred Fortugno was there to give out the trophies with the assistance of Gene Fortugno and his two young daughters.

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