Eldorado Polo Club 2005

Polo players show patriotism

INDIO – While the 77th Academy Awards committee dedicated Sunday’s television special to U.S. troops serving overseas, Eldorado Polo Club, Polo America and the Twentynine Palms Armed Services YMCA paid them more than mere lip service. They joined forces Feb. 26 to present a polo marathon fundraiser that benefited the families of servicemen and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We don’t want our troops to be forgotten,” said Randy Russell, CEO of Polo America, who organized the event. “It’s a beautiful day out here, and they’re over there in the foxholes and trudging through the streets not knowing who or what’s waiting for them on the other end.”

Eighty polo players donated $25 per chukker to play in 10 matches of the Mercedes-Benz Red, White and Blue Festival on the fields of Eldorado Polo Club. Mehrdad  Baghai, of Indio, who played in the four-goal match for Tack Mart USA, said the benefit is a fantastic way to focus attention on supporting the causes at home.

“It’s a great way to bring everyone together to remind people of what’s going on with our country,” Baghai said.

Bilo Zarif, of La Quinta, playing for the Summerland Winery team, prepared for his match on the sidelines, seated on the grass next to one of the hundreds of flags peppering the polo club. He said he wanted to show his patriotism and especially his respect, for young troops who were sent to Iraq from his neighborhood.

“I believe in supporting our troops. I’m very patriotic about that.”

Spectators filled the clubhouse to get a taste of polo and a Taste of the Desert sponsored by four area restaurants. La Quinta resident Jeanne Gilbertson is a frequent guest at the club’s Sunday games that often support valley charities. Though she didn’t know anyone in the armed forces, she wanted to do her part to contribute to the cause.

“I think it’s a lovely idea. We try to support these events every chance we get.”

Le Paon, The Player’s Club at Fantasy Springs, The Bistro and Embassy Suites La Quinta pitched in to offer lamb chops, Steak Diane, Confetti Salad, Crème Brulee and other delicacies for $4 a taste. Mercedes-Benz of Palm Springs donated logo polo shirts for the players. Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino sponsored a “Money Run,” dropping 401 bags onto the polo field, one containing a $100 chip and 400 others containing a $1 chip to thank attending contributors.

“One hundred percent of the funds raised today will be donated to the Twentynine Palms Armed Services YMCA,” club manager Susan Stovall said. Donations were accepted on behalf of the families selected by two officers of the U.S. Marine Corps at a steak dinner at the club’s cantina Saturday night.

The marathon polo event drew wide support among the more than 350 members of Eldorado and Empire Polo Clubs, so much so, that some players who signed up for chukkers were turned away. Rain-soaked fields prevented the event from reaching its planned 12-hour, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. potential, Russell said.

Diane Hensley may be reached at dkheditor@msn.com.

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