The labor that kids in Work to Ride put in is, of course, rewarded, which is probably why the program has been such a success. But even though the team has recently flourished, it took a long time for that to happen. In the beginning, the team had a hard time lining up matches because, well, they weren’t very good. Rosser says that was more of an issue than any racial discrimination. “It was not because of our race or anything, but it was a while before people accepted that we were good,” he says. “For the older guys, it was definitely difficult.”
But after they started winning matches, the word got out, and they began to be invited to play teams everywhere. “It’s ironic — teams wouldn’t play us because we weren’t good enough, and now they won’t play us because we are too good,” Rosser says. In fact, he says the team was so good last year that it had to play college teams to face real competition — teams like Harvard and the University of Virginia. “We were on top of our game last year,” he says, recalling that championship season.
With the departure of Kareem and a few other key players, Hiner says that this year’s team will nevertheless be competitive and a challenger for another national championship. But winning polo matches is not really the main issue on her mind. Even though Work to Ride has received national attention from Sports Illustrated and ESPN, Hiner says that it continues to be difficult to raise the money necessary to serve all the kids who want to participate. “We are still struggling monetarily as much as we did in the beginning. It’s a constant struggle,” admits Hiner, who says most of her support comes from individuals and very little from foundations — and nothing from companies. Part of the problem, she speculates, may have to do with all of the high-profile attention they have received. “When people see the success, they think everything is fine and dandy, and they think we don’t need help.”
The same is also true for some of the alumni of the program. Although he earned a master’s degree, Richard Prather has yet to find a full-time job in his field, instead working as a professional groomer in Palm Springs, Calif. “A lot of the way the stories go is they tell this horrible beginning, and then we find polo and there’s all this happiness and it’s all good. People think we’re doing great because we made it to ESPN or Sports Illustrated,” he says. “After the story, it’s back to reality.” Eventually, Prather would like to do motivational speaking as a way to help more inner-city kids excel academically. For now, he still enjoys being around horses.
If nothing else, the continuing struggle of Prather and other alums is actually a testament to how much Work to Ride elevated their expectations for their lives. That’s not a bad legacy for a little barn on the outskirts of the streets of Philadelphia. “The barn definitely helped me escape that life that I really did not want to live,” Rosser says. “It was my own little utopian society.”
What do you get when you mix polo and dsadvantaged urban kids eager to work and learn? Champions.