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Six hours later they were at the national interscholastic tournament in Charlottesville, Va. The cadets from Valley Forge were there. The other four teams looked at the Work-to-Riders from the corners of their eyes, and then, the minute they were out of earshot, freaked. Who were they? What were they? Why were they?
Of course they were allowed to play. The scarcity of scholastic polo teams meant that none had to win its way into the nationals. On the eve of the tournament, when the teams gathered for a break-the-iceberg dinner at the Boar's Head Inn, a 160-pound cadet from Valley Forge gazed across the table at Lonnie. "If my hair ever got nappy," he announced, "I'd shoot myself."
For one terrible moment, as everyone mulled the cultural as well as physical inadvisability of that remark, no one spoke. Lonnie tasted his embarrassment, felt his rage building ... and clamped his teeth. He'd show those damn cadets on the field.
The Work-to-Riders got demolished by 20 goals in the first game and 17 in the next, sent packing without getting to play Valley Forge. Just wait, vowed Lonnie. One day....
The extra practice at the military academy paid off. Within two years the Work-to-Riders were winning as often as they lost, and Lez's whistle now pierced the air to celebrate their triumphs as well as curb their anarchy. Other teams smelled the boys' dedication. Plenty of polo people--men such as the new Valley Forge Military Academy coach, Ted Torrey, and Lancaster Polo Club president Bob Lawson--were salt-of-the-earth sorts who welcomed the pepper of the earth to their sport, inviting Lez's kids to their fields and into their homes for overnight stays. The boys luxuriated in king-sized beds. They peered into closets that dwarfed their bedrooms at home. They rode in fox hunts and steeplechases, mingled with DuPonts and Weymouths.
The cadets kept beating them, but by margins slimmer and slimmer. The two teams began to congregate before and after matches, to take pointers from each other, to bust one another's chops. And would you look at that? Sergeant First Class Chuck Grant ... playing polo in a 'do-rag!
A black kid could keep it from his friends and loved ones for only so long. Sooner or later they'd find out that he was spending his Saturday nights holed up in some unmarried white woman's three-bedroom gray stone house in Northwest Philly ... studying videotapes of last week's polo match.
Lonnie, exasperated when his friends thought he was playing water polo, dug up a Ralph Lauren shirt and stabbed his finger at the logo. "That's a sport?" they asked. No one from their families or neighborhoods, except for Lonnie's and Chris's mother, Sarah, ventured into the parallel universe to see the boys play.