“Huffine factor” key to championship ride
By Danny Mayer
After a series of crushing tournament defeats, including a second place finish here at the BG State Games this time last year, Chris Simpson can finally silence his critics and add a tournament championship to his growing bike polo resume. Simpson and his Bourbonic Plague teammates Nick Redbeard and Henry Huffine outscored and generally out-pedaled the fourteen team polo field gathered in pursuit of last Saturday’s Bluegrass Games State Bike Polo championship.
Things kicked off at 12:22 when players and journalist gathered around BG State Games Commisioner of Bike Polo Brian Turner for roll call and a collective discussion surrounding some finer points of game rules over the double elimination tournament. No T-Boning, no high-sticking, and for godsakes, no striking the ball while using your foot for balance on the court walls, if you can help it.
Fittingly enough, tournament play began on Court A with an amped up Simpson repeatedly circling the court and gesticulating maniacally at teammate Huffine, who was moonlighting as the tournament’s master coordinator, to hurry his ass up and get on the court. Bourbonic Plague was taking on Cutters.
The match did not take long. Using a rotating wheel attack, Redbeard assisted Simpson on two of the four goals he scored in the 5-0 Bourbonic rout over the team from Bloomington, Indiana. Simpson’s final goal, a game-ending five foot tap in transition while pulling off a wheelie, set the stage for the Plague’s take-no-prisoners attitude. True, it was a move bordering on show-boating, but it was effective, and it sent a message to the rest of the field. “Sometimes you just gotta be a dick,” Simpson would later say, while standing on the sidelines in his extra gameday capacity as bench-coach/mentor for team Rubbin’s Racin’, about his final goal on Cutter.
Heat a factor
Bourbonic’s quick disembowelment of Cutter set the stage for a fast-paced day of bike polo action. Intense heat, a forfeited match by Team Columbus, reportedly stuck in traffic enroute, and several lopsided games, some of which finished before the 10 minute time-limit for tournament matches and none of which went into overtime, contributed to the tournament’s fast pace. In other first round play, Dayton’s Two Appalachians and A Knee-Gra blanked Atlanta’s Muffin Haters 5-0, while Jared Baize and his Rubbin’s Racin’ team belligerently pummeled the 2010 Census by a score of 4-1. Only the Lisa Frank Unicorns/Balls Deep match played close, a hard-fought 1-0 victory for the local boys of Lisa Frank.
With temperatures soaring into the 90s, the convenience store on Sixth and Jefferson quickly sold out of beer. Players, fans and journalists went into a speculative tizzy. Black market High Life bottles, imported from the Broadway/Loudon gas station, fetched $2 on the open velo market; Bittburger smuggled in from the far away land of Shopper’s Village briefly fetched three times that amount at 3:00 PM when the heat and frenzy crested. Players huddled under tarps, journalists dove for cover beneath a couple of nearby pines, over-grown now and with branches wilted to the ground, that had created a quite shady courtside cave. A couple lucky souls were even granted entrance into Simpson’s opulant private tarp chalet set on the hill overlooking Coolavin Courts.
On the court, where the hard surface collects the sun’s energy and neither trees nor tarps could offer any respite to the players, the heat contributed to lethargic tournament action. On court temperatures soared into the triple digits. Players were soon sapped of energy, their bodies glistening wet early into the ten minute games. Perhaps owing to the heat, a number of teams experienced an increase in flat tires; those that didn’t still played on low tires, which slowed player movement up and down the court. The burning court surface also made for a bad case of hot balls—which are slower, softer, less bouncy and thereby less fun to slap—as the plastic surface slowly melted, losing its rigidity. Players continually called for more cold balls please.
The Huffine factor
Given the grueling heat conditions, Bourbonic Plague seem to have chosen the correct strategy: beat the ever-living snot out of everyone you play, do it quickly, and then head for the comfort and shade of a tarp on a hill, some brown liquor on ice, and a spot in the winner’s bracket.
In advancing to the championship game with four straight convincing wins, Bourbonic only surrendered one goal, a short tap-in on a weaving half-court break-away by blond bomb shell Chris Cornell in a Round 2 match versus the Tater Tots. The Cornell goal would mark the only time in the tournament that Bourbonic fell behind.
Characteristically for this tournament, after the Tots surged ahead, it was the Plague’s Henry Huffine who would provide the steadying sober hand for his Bourbonic teammates: after Cornell’s score, Huffine simply went down the court and scored his first, and nearly only, BG State Tournament goal. Huffine’s leadership and targeted offensive work eventually allowed Simpson and Redbeard to get back on track and finish things off with four straight goals in what turned out to be an easy 5-1 victory over the Tots.
Though the internationally praised Simpson and emerging star Redbeard are often cited, with good reason, as the reason for Bourbonic’s success, the defensive prowess and mental acuity of Huffine was the real story of this Bluegrass State Games. With ribs injured early in the tournament and a chafing problem that worsened throughout the day, Huffine was forced to play in goal for most of the tournament. He not only perservered, he shined.
With the hobbled Huffine parrying shots on goal left and right, the quick-pedaled Simpson and Redbeard were allowed to stay on ball, harass the other team, leave for quick run-outs and otherwise execute the offense. After dispatching the Tater Tots, the Plague blanked Atlanta’s A team (Atlanta A) in the third round and, to secure a trip to the championship, dismantled Two Appalachians and A Knee-Gra by a score of 4-0.
Atlanta A to championship game
In the loser’s bracket, out of towners Atlanta A and Dayton’s Two Appalachians and A Knee-Gra appeared to be headed for a show-down match for the right to face Bourbonic in the championship, though several Lexington teams stood in their way. After an exciting 5-4 victory over Lisa Frank, Rubbin’s Racin’ rolled over to Atlanta A in a 5-0 match that secured Rubbin’ a better-than-expected fourth place tournament finish led by Jared Baize.
Atlanta A’s victory over Rubbin’ set up a loser’s bracket finale against Two Appalachians that, on paper, looked to be a closely played match. It wasn’t. The much older Two Appalachians and a Knee-Gra withered under the sun and, like last year, lost going away, 5-1, to finish in third place.
The winning Atlanta team, comprised of a trio of wiry and fast players, employed a strategy of quick passes and corner charges that had been overwhelming other team’s defenses. Their fast style of play had clearly been wearing down opposing teams. After an early-round loss to Bourbonic, Atlanta A seemed to be peddling on all gears heading into the championship.
Unfortunately, the expected matchup between the offensive prowess of Atlanta’s A Team and the gutty defensive play of Huffine, what some now call the Huffine factor, never played out. From skillful nudges of the ball to Simpson or Redbeard for quick run-outs the other way, to stopping a shot cold with his face, the chafed Huffine was unflappable in goal.
Redbeard and Simpson scored early and often, and before the crowd knew it, the game was over, by a margine of 5-1. Bourbonic Plague had secured their place in Bluegrass (State Games Bike Polo Tournament) lore.
Lexington Teams in tourney
Lexington bike polo was well-represented in the 14 team field. Five Lexington teams participated against teams from Bloomington, Atlanta, Dayton and Louisville. Normally, out-of-town “A” teams perform well at tournaments such as these, which was the case with Dayton and Atlanta’s “A” teams finishing in second and third place behind Lexington’s Bourbonic Plague. However, a look further into the standings shows that the next three highest placing teams, Rubbin’s Racin’ (4th), Lisa Frank Unicorns (5th) and Kitten Pox (6th), were all Lexington teams.
This finish is even more surprising given the fact that polo standouts Tiff Morrow, Mike Rozzi, Brad Flowers and Shane Tedder did not play in the tournament.
Baize’s shaky day
Jared Baize, the short-tempered tea pot playing for Rubbin’s Racin’, had a rather schizophrenic day at Coolavin. The red-haired giant has a reputation as a tough-nose player with a significant mean streak on the court, and teammates often have to cool him down when he gets into verbal and physical scrapes with opposing players.
Baize’s tournament day began with his mallet getting broken during a pick-up game, an act for which he loudly blamed a fellow Lexington player. With Chris Simpson operating as a courtside coach, Baize’s on-court belligerence was tempered somewhat during Rubbin’s first-round match against 2010 Census (a 4-1 Rubbin’ victory). The temperance was short-lived, however, as sources say Baize completely lost it in a second round loss to Atlanta A.
But then something amazing happened. It was almost like a new Jared showed up for Rubbin’s next two victories, against the Muffin Haters from Atlanta and Lexington’s Tater Tots. The new Baize stopped yelling and started playing for fun; the new Baize stopped threatening other players and started working with his teammates. Some spectators even suggested that the new Baize even looked different.
Things couldn’t last, though, and by Rubbin’s loss in the semifinals to Atlanta A, the old Jared had returned. After letting two straight goals roll past his wheels, Baize once again went belligerent, continuing his ranting with a strangely homo-erotic heckling of a single Atlanta A player all throughout the championship match, which prompted a player/spectator to cry out afterwards, “You are the most disgusting, ignorant man I have ever seen.”
Polo retirement community
Several long-time bike polo players did not suit up for the tournament. Shane Tedder and Tim “Mad Dog” Buckingham took the time during the tournament to shake some hands and officially announce their retirement. Tedder, along with Chris Simpson and Brad Flowers a former member of the fabled Tripple Lexx squads of 2008, is reportedly hanging up the pedals for a new career in competitive tubing down the Elkhorn. He was only able to break away from his rigid tubing schedule when some fellow tubers from Mississippi called and canceled at the last second a scheduled trip down the Rockcastle.
Buckingham joined Tedder in going into retirement. Mad Dog has long been a colorful character on the scene, but polo is a young-person’s game, and no doubt his old crank shaft, like Tedder’s, will be replaced by newer ones.