not know these sports, but plenty of locals do, like cricket’s Rizwan Arshad
(left), bike polo’s Jake Newborn (center) and hurling’s Dave Olson. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
The group of two dozen men were playing a game of… something.
This was a few summers back, not long after a mysterious construction project in Tippecanoe Park at Bay View’s southern edge. In the midst of a grassy landscape, the new addition seemed strangely, almost dangerously, out of place. It was a long, narrow concrete slab covered with green artificial turf.
But now, these men and their unfamiliar game had solved the mystery. Along that slab, one man pitched a ball toward a bat-wielding opponent, purposefully aiming so that the orb would bounce on the way. Defenders fanned out from the batter in all directions, including behind him.
This was a cricket match. In a park specifically prepared for the sport. In Milwaukee.
It was a reminder that, for all the attention paid to America’s favorite summer pastimes of baseball and golf, they don’t hold a monopoly. Look a bit under the radar, and you might be surprised at what Milwaukee has to offer.
We won’t even try explaining all of the sport’s rules and terminology here. Because, A) we don’t have time or space, and B) we’d fail anyway.
So we asked Rizwan Arshad, president of the Milwaukee Panthers cricket club, if he’d give a brief summary for neophytes. “I can try,” he laughed. But upon realizing his summary was soon stretching past brevity, he admitted, “It’s very complicated,” and suggested perusing the Internet.
Suffice it to say that cricket has bats and balls and outs and runs, but when the puzzle pieces are assembled, it’s a picture quite different from baseball.
Arshad insists you need not know all the rules to enjoy watching the British-born sport. And being British, it’s popular in many countries where the U.K. held sway. Immigrants from those countries, particularly India and Arshad’s native land of Pakistan, have built a vibrant cricket community in Milwaukee, most of it centered around three entities – the Milwaukee Cricket Club, the Milwaukee United Cricket Club and Arshad’s Panthers.
They play matches throughout the summer at three Milwaukee parks – Tippecanoe, Lindsay and Meaux. Tippecanoe is home to the Panthers, who raised some $12,000 to install that concrete slab with the blessing of Milwaukee County Parks. Spectators, Arshad says, are welcomed by each of the Milwaukee clubs. They might even get to swing a bat. “Sports,” he says, “is a universal language.”
Unlike cricket, an explanation of footgolf is pretty simple. Take the sport of golf, replace the tiny ball with a regulation soccer ball, and replace the regulation clubs with your regulation foot. Oh, and give the holes a 21-inch diameter. Now, get the ball from tee to hole in the fewest kicks possible.
“It’s huge overseas and gaining popularity almost daily stateside,” says Chet Hendrickson, golf services manager at Milwaukee County Parks. “I don’t think it’ll be under the radar long, especially with soccer’s World Cup this summer.”
There’s a Federation for International Footgolf. There are professional tournaments and a world championship. There’s an American Footgolf League, which has accredited more than 100 U.S. courses, and even recommends a dress code that includes indoor soccer shoes and knee-high argyle socks.
And now, there’s a full-time footgolf course in Milwaukee. Lincoln Park’s 9-hole golf course has been retrofitted to also serve as an 18-hole footgolf course, complete with footgolf-specific scorecards. In fact, groups of regular golfers and footgolfers can play the course at the same time, one after the other.
Just don’t try telling them apart by their socks.
It’s a hybridized sport that borrows from the noble sport of polo. But by using bicycles instead of horses, they save a whole lot of money on feed.
Played on a hardcourt surrounded by dasher boards with goals at either end, the sport has the feel of hockey on bikes, with sticks and puck replaced by mallets and a street-hockey ball. It’s contested 3-on-3 by multitasking riders who must simultaneously pedal, steer one-handed, pass and shoot.
“A lot of new people ride with their head down staring at the ball, and then they crash into people,” says Jake Newborn, captain of the Milwaukee Bike Polo club.
Milwaukee’s club makes its home in Washington Park, where it transformed some abandoned tennis courts into polo-worthy playgrounds. And the club has produced teams that have won national and world championships.
Some of the Midwest’s best bike polo teams come to Washington Park June 7-8, when Milwaukee hosts a regional qualifying tournament for the North American Bike Polo Championship. Says Newborn: “We just want people to come out and see the passion of it.”
Anna Witt was new to Milwaukee as she strolled through Lake Park on that day in 2006. And like many who find themselves in the park, she saw its pristine lawn bowling greens.
“I came across all these older people dressed up in white and playing some game I’d never seen before,” she recalls. “Someone came up to me and invited me to return for a lesson.” She did, and soon joined the Milwaukee Lake Park Lawn Bowling Association.
By 2013, the 34-year-old doctor was pretty good at her newfound pastime. Good enough to win a pairs national championship with fellow Milwaukeean Rebecca Nguyen.
Witt describes her sport as similar to bocce and curling, in that competitors vie to put their “bowls” closest to a target jack. And it’s those bowls that help set the sport apart. “They’re round, but they have a bias,” Witt says. “So when you deliver them, the bowls curve as they slow down.”
To get beyond the learning curve, as Witt discovered, the club is eager to offer lessons to the uninitiated. Spectators who just want to watch can catch evening league action or weekend tourneys.
As for that dress code… “There’s more flexibility now,” Witt says. “But some people still like to dress all in white.”
Ireland’s sacred sport is said to date back 3,000 years. And no, it’s name doesn’t refer to throwing things – up or otherwise – but stems from its main equipment, the “hurley.” Think of it as a shortened hockey stick with a flat end that’s used like a lacrosse stick with no netting.
The Milwaukee Hurling Club doesn’t quite date back three millenia. But since its 1996 founding, it’s grown to more than 300 co-ed players, about a third of them youth.
Credit club leader Dave Olson for driving much of the growth. “We’re the largest club outside of Ireland,” Olson says. “That’s not even us saying it. That’s Ireland telling us.” One Irish paper, the Independent, even dubbed him “America’s hurling messiah.”
He traces the club’s growth to its focus on integrating newcomers into the hurling flock, as well as the sport’s addictive nature. Played on a large field with goals, it combines elements of soccer, lacrosse and even baseball.
Games are played on Sundays throughout the summer at Brown Deer Park, and spectators are welcome to witness Olson’s gospel.