DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Vintage sports have been seeing a resurgence lately, like roller derby and kickball. But one century-old sport hasn't just found new fans, it's undergone a gritty, urban overhaul. Welcome to hardcourt bike polo.
Hilary Stohs-Krause from NET News has the story.
HILARY STOHS-KRAUSE: It's a hot, sunny day in Roseville, Minnesota. And the second day of the 2013 North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship is about to begin.
Teams of three riders are deftly maneuvering around concrete courts on single-speed fixed gear bikes, as they whack a rubber ball with mallets toward each other's goal nets. It's a tough game, evidenced by the players' bruises, scabs and freely bleeding wounds. They're all wearing helmets. And there's plastic or cardboard shields safeguarding wheel spokes against hurtling balls or errant mallet swings.
There are penalties for various infractions, but the most common is touching the ground. For that, you have to ride to a set point on the court and hit it with your mallet to tap back in. For the tournament, games last 12 minutes and the team with the most points wins. The tournament finals are longer.
BEN SCHULTZ: It's a very attractive sport. It's an elegant sport. It's a brutal sport. It's gorgeous.
STOHS-KRAUSE: That's Ben Schultz, one of the organizers of this 48-team tournament.
Bicycle polo was invented in 1891. But its gritty hardcourt cousin was cobbled together in Seattle in 1999. While traditional cycle polo was played on manicured grass fields with wooden mallets, the modern version began in alleys and side streets with mallets crafted from ski poles and PVC pipe. U.S. hardcourt bike polo has exploded, from 11 registered teams to more than 175, in the last six years.
Minneapolis player Jenn Gallup attributes the jump to increased interest in street biking and online organizational capabilities.
JENN GALLUP: With technology like the Internet and message boards, I think it's just creating a community that's easier to attach yourself to.
STOHS-KRAUSE: Gallup was at the tournament helping run the livestream service BikePolo.tv.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We have one-nil at the moment, Journeyman against...
STOHS-KRAUSE: Complete with commentary, they broadcast games online from around the world. Yet just a few miles down the road in Roseville, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota native Joe Wentzel has never even heard of bike polo.
JOE WENTZEL: OK, I'm going to watch the Twins, the Vikings or bicycle polo. I think bicycle polo would definitely be number three.
STOHS-KRAUSE: And that's only one of the challenges facing this fast-growing urban sport. Right now, the fan base is mostly players. But the game is rapidly professionalizing as it grows. There's now manufactured bike polo-specific gear, and in some cases, corporate sponsorship for teams or players.
But some, like longtime player Chris Williams, say this evolution is creating some tension.
CHRIS WILLIAMS: There are a lot of people with a lot of grand visions for what the sport could become or what they want it to become, but I'm very much in love with what I first discovered.
STOHS-KRAUSE: The world championship of bike polo will be held in Weston, Florida in October. And if the North American tournament is any indication, they'll need a well-equipped first aid tent. It may be an elegant sport, but it can be brutal.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oh, no. All y'all just can't grab a mallet...
STOHS-KRAUSE: For NPR News, I'm Hilary Stohs-Krause.
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