Michigan Beach Polo — A Beautiful Day at the Beach for a Wonderful Cause
BY :: LIAM UPON THE STRAND, THE LAND OF LOVE MUSKEGON
PHOTOGRAPHY :: DAVE JOHNSON
Every summer gala celebrated under the blue sky of June echoes the legendary Camp du Drap d’Or, or the Field of the Cloth of Gold. A festival that began June 7, 1520, Cardinal Wolsey, Papal Legate of Leo the Tenth, gathered the royal courts of Henry the Eight of England and Frances the First of France to the fields of Balinghem, France, celebrating a 1514 treaty that gave hope for the eternal end of aggression between European nations. Observed with courtly fashion, toasts drawn from fountains of wine, the finest French cuisine before Escoffier and royal games from wrestling to the equestrian sport of jousting, the tents and clothing woven from silk and gold thread gave the first peace festival of Europe its name and marked the rise of the Renaissance. Perhaps as ill-fated an effort as the League of Nations, the Field of the Cloth of Gold allowed the nations of the world to focus less on war and focus more upon more cunning and fitting opponents, such as the scourge of children’s cancer, which Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital fights every day.
In 2011, the shining children’s hospital high on Medical Hill treated 8253 children in the hospital, serving them with age-appropriate medical equipment, children specialists and extra nurses and staff on all fourteen floors. Thousands more are treated on an out-patient basis. Although no royals attended the beach polo event Saturday, June 9, 2012, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital was represented by two young ladies who have been fighting cancer in a noble match. One of the two, Brooke Elizabeth Hester journaled about her experience at the beach polo match on her Caring Bridge blog, with her mother’s assistance. Hester has fought back against cancer daily since a diagnosis of stage IV neuroblastoma at age three and a half, a fight chronicled on BrookeFightsBack.Org. Every strike of the polo mallet and goal scored honored their courage, one young lady sporting flip-up pink sunglasses and one young lady wearing a white beach hat. Every dollar raised by the 150 VIP guests and 300 guests around the sand arena went to continue the campaign against children’s cancer.
Hundreds of beach visitors tanning on towels or lawn chairs enjoyed the spectacle free of admission fee, and dwellers of the beach houses on an overlooking sand bluff enjoyed the rare spectacle from their decks. Protected from the brisk wind and the sunshine of a cloudless day by a long tent with windows, VIP guests enjoyed a feast catered by the Gilmore Collection, whose team worked out of a small tent kitchen. Guests quenched their thirst with Michigan wines and beers brewed by New Holland Brewing Company. Absent the fountains of wine, magnums of Veuve Clicquot filled in nicely. Greenery and small trees from Thornapple River Nursery reminded guests of a summer field in Northern France.
When it comes to collegiate polo between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, the Great Divide doesn’t exist. During collegiate competitions on the grounds of the Detroit Polo Club in Hartland, Michigan, Spartans saddle up with Wolverines for the common cause of victory. On Saturday, the Spartans and Wolverines shared tents and sold one another’s tee shirts, sold out by game time, to customers on the sidewalk side of a light woven fence around the compound. With the assistance of professionals from Meadowview Farm, the collegians cared for more than two dozen ponies who had arrived in silver trailers, preparing fresh mounts for the professional polo players for the upcoming chukkers.
Not only did the students wrap the ankles of ponies and braid and tape tails, a team with shovels scooped up horse apples immediately and filled in sand holes dug by hooves enjoying cool, damp sand. Few if any flies appeared to harass the ponies. The two Big Ten rivals faced off in a fifteen minute exhibition match, anticipating official matches during the season, including the Polo in the Pavilion event held annually on the MSU Campus. A match of four chukkers can be played in under an hour; the year round practices and daily care of a team of thirteen to fifteen ponies takes place at the equestrian estates of sponsors, the Spartans at Massman Stables in Mason and Wolverines at Paragon Farm in Ann Arbor.
Like a sand zamboni, an International 884 Tractor and rake smoothed the trampled sand between chukkers for the safety of ponies and riders. In the professional game between Blue and White, the students cheered as their coaches and trainers faced off on the sand, refereed by Les Johnson, owner of Meadowview Farms of Lowell, Michigan. Wearing many hats, Johnson worked closely behind the scenes with his daughter, Katie Johnson, whose firm, Michigan Polo Events, produced the event.
Kev Couture, a fashion stylist based in Grand Rapids, protected his models in an air-conditioned Sandpiper recreational vehicle towed to the beach by a Dodge Ram 2500 HD. Assisted by intern Stephanie Hanlin, Couture presented a show of models dressed in beach and summer attire, most looks available locally from two boutiques and three designers, including outfits from Sydney’s Boutique. Between chukker one and two of the professional game, his barefoot models sashayed down a runway of sugar sand, energized by the smooth, summer rhythms of Jenny Disko‘s turntable mix. The guests of the VIP section dressed for the occasion in spring hats and summer dresses, and Couture could have selected every guests for his runway.
Abigayle Sloan, on her first walk down a runway, stunned in a diaphanous silk weave with hand painted floral elements, worn over a yellow swim suit, an outfit created by Kirk Johnson of b-Vain Couture. A second model graced the show with an original summer soiree dress in ivory with black accents, a design from the spring-summer line of Adriana Pavon, who attended at Couture’s invitation. Attired in a yellow polo shirt and smart white slacks, Couture had the pleasure of escorting Katie Johnson along the runway, the producer who wore an off-the-shoulder gown in coral, retro sunglasses and a Brixton straw fedora. Couture celebrated the show’s triumph by burning up the internet with picture posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
A man with a voice as pleasant as that of Ernie Harwell‘s, Jerry Hutchinson called the play by play, easing the audience into the language of polo with its bumps, ride offs and hooks. Hutchinson was delighted when the chukker ball, then a yellow volleyball from Meijers, was knocked into the VIP section and returned to play by a woman in a wide brimmed sunhat. He delighted when the Blue Team, sponsored by Boutique Emmanuel, scored a last chance goal against the White Team, sponsored by Commando Lock Company, sealing the victory of Boutique Emmanuel with 4 goals over 3. Hutchinson has served as a leader with the Detroit Polo Club, and he has promoted polo as an accessible sport for young people and collegians, a more inclusive sport he helped reach the beach at Pere Marquette.
In a moving ceremony on the red carpet, the two young ladies from the children’s hospital assisted in presenting the trophy cup to the victorious team from Boutique Emmanuel. The two received toy ponies from the riders, a My Little Pony plush for Brooke, as a thank you for representing all the patients who receive advanced cancer therapies at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Afterwards, the older of the two sat upon one of Pere Marquette’s blue benches and gazed at the ponies, hugging her pony statue. The crews worked hard to unravel the braided tails, unwrap the ankles and prepare the ponies for a long trip home to Lowell, Mason and Ann Arbor. Nikki Boon and her band presented a concert as the guests mingled, posed for pictures with horses and players.
Saturday showed Muskegon in the glory of late spring. The Milwaukee Clipper, a treasure from Muskegon’s heritage as a steamship port, welcomed visitors to tour its restored art deco chambers. Home of the USS Silversides Submarine from World War II, the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum on the Lake Muskegon channel hosted the Women of Michigan Brunch, a motivational prelude, offered free to reserved guests, proceeding the polo match.
Not only did the Lake Express arrive to harbor in the final minutes of the beach polo event, the Lake Michigan horizon hazy with heat, on the eastern shore of Lake Muskegon, Miss Michigan Elizabeth Wertenberger and Miss Michigan’s Outstanding Teen Marissa Cowans led sixty contestants and guests to a Royal Dance Mob on the Olthoff Stage of downtown’s Third Street Promenade, wearing real crowns awarded by the scholarship competition. The Dance Mob featured the music of Journey, the anthem, “Don’t Stop Believing”, a theme song for Wertenberger. The weekend of Saturday, June 16th, a new Miss Michigan will be crowned upon the stage of the Muskegon’s Frauenthal Theater.
As the golden sun set on this Saturday, the Ninth of June, inside a great tent with high ceilings from Redi-Rental, six-hundred and fifty supporters of the Muskegon Museum of Art sat down to dinner to celebrate the museum’s centennial year. The dinner set a record as Muskegon’s largest outdoor, plated dinner. Over at the downtown Holiday Inn, Nikki Boon and her band entertained the equestrian set at a watch party to celebrate the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes.