Equuleus Defends Title; Riley Ganzi Named MVP; Smiles All Around At Great Futures Celebrity Polo Match For Boys & Girls ClubFor the fourth consecutive year, the Neil S. Hirsch Family Boys & Girls Club of Wellington was the biggest winner at the Great Futures Celebrity Match at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The star power of Nacho Figueras, John Walsh and some of the world's top polo players helped to raise funds for the facility that serves hundreds of children.
Neil Hirsch presents the winners' trophy to Equuleus players.Defending champion Equuleus repeated as winners of the round-robin tournament. It was difficult to figure out who was having more fun, the winning foursome of Joe DiMenna, Martin Pepa, Grant Ganzi and Mariano Gonzalez or the busloads of YMCA kids who celebrated with players and fans after the game.
Equuleus finished ahead of Grand Champions (Annabelle Gundlach, John Walsh, Brandon Phillips, Nic Roldan) and Valentine Farm (Olexa Celine, Will Jacobs, Riley Ganzi, Nacho Figueras, Alejandro Novillo Astrada).
Grand Champions President Melissa Ganzi presents Neil Hirsch with a well-deserved appreciation plaque.Riley Ganzi, 17, a junior at St. Andrew's School in Boca Raton and one of the youngest players in the tournament, was named Most Valuable Player.
Joe DiMenna's horse Sunbrella was named Best Playing Pony.
Equuleus players Martin Pepa, Mariano Gonzalez, Grant Ganzi and Joe DiMenna with Neil Hirsch.
Walsh, a television spokesman, a passionate children's advocate, activist and creator of America's Most Wanted, and now with CNN's original series The Hunt With John Walsh, was just as popular as Figueras, signing autographs, posing for pictures before and after the game and during the Great Futures Brunch at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Busloads of boys and girls from the Boys & Girls Club got the chance to watch polo, stomp divots at halftime, meet players and visit and pet some of the horses including the Best Playing Pony.
Grand Champions players John Walsh, Annabelle Gundlach, Brandon Phillips and Nic Roldan with Neil Hirsch.
Several players took time out to talk to the kids about the horses and the game. Figueras gave one lucky boy, smiling from ear-to-ear, a ride on his horse between chukkers.
"It is so fantastic to play for the Boys and Girls Club here because we do have so much poverty in Palm Beach County," said Walsh, co-chair of the event along with Figueras and avid polo player for 13 years. "They are saving and changing one child at a time without a doubt. This is the whole polo community contributing, raising money for kids. Marc and Melissa Ganzi are such a big part of this."
Valentine Farm players Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Riley Ganzi, Olexa Celine and Will Jacobs with Neil Hirsch.
Melissa Ganzi, USPA Florida Circuit Governor and Grand Champions President, presented Neil Hirsch with a special award in appreciation for his tireless work with the club named in his honor.
"Neil Hirsch has set a great example for our polo community by giving back to those who need us most here in Wellington-our children," Ganzi said. "The celebrity match is making an impact on the club members, their families and our community."
MVP Riley Ganzi of Valentine Farm on her way to her third goal of the game.Hirsch was one of the first to arrive greeting players, posing with players and sponsors and making sure the Boys and Girls Club kids were having a good time cheering and clapping for the players as they rode by."The kids keep me coming back," Hirsch said. "To see these kids every day. They come to the clubafter school. They are in a safe place, great environment and safe from the streets. That keeps me going."
Equuleus teammates Martin Pepa and Grant Ganzi having fun with the kids.Hirsch said the polo community has been generous with its support.
"Polo and charity go together," Hirsch said. "These polo players are more like my brothers. They come out here and do this for nothing. They do it for the charity. There is a lot of work that goes into this before this, too, and they are always there for it.
Martin Pepa and Mariano Gonzalez of Equuleus and Annabelle Gundlach all smiles while playing.
"This is a forever event for me. This is our fourth year. It is one of the major events that helps fund the expenses of the club. We will definitely continue doing it.
"When I go to the club, the kids all run over to me. I get choked up every time. It's really a special experience for me."
Kids get the chance to meet Joe DiMenna's Best Playing Pony Sunbrella.
Figueras flew in the morning of the event to participate in the popular event. He said he would never miss it and wants to give back to the sport that has given him and his family so much.
"To see the smiles, all the smiles, on these kids faces and to open their world a little bit more is what we are here to do," Figueras said. "Neil does so much for the community and the Boys and GirlsClub."
Neil Hirsch awards MVP honors to Riley Ganzi of Valentine Farm.
Proceeds from the game and IPC brunch benefited the Neil S. Hirsch Boys and Girls Club of Wellington, one of thirteen Boys and Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County and 1,100 across the U.S., located at 1080 Wellington Trace.
The Boys and Girls clubs, open year-round, provide services during non-school hours, as well as summer camp opportunities for nearly 7,000 boys and girls from ages 6 to 18 throughout the nation.
A packed house including kids from the Neil S. Hirsch Family Boys and Girls Club of Wellington enjoying the game.Longtime announcer and Tackeria owner Tony Coppola, the legendary voice of polo, called the action. Popular local artist Tom Blake sang the National Anthem.
Polo Gear was the official supplier for the event, supplying players' jerseys and t-shirts for all the kids.
Nacho Figueras talking with friends and supporters during the Great Futures luncheon at IPC.Polo Gear, one of the top supporters of polo established in 1993 and incorporated in Florida, manufactures, distributes and sells polo products to players, teams and polo events worldwide. For more information on Polo Gear and to order products, visitwww.pologearusa.com.
Grand Champions Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its' expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its' Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
Awards table for the Great Futures Celebrity Polo Match.Photos by ChukkerTVThe Polo School at Grand Champions, a 501c3 organization, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.