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Cowboys, polo players gather for annual SMR Cup

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- It’s interesting how a small, white ceramic bull mounted atop a block of polished wood can bring different cultures together.

But that’s the beauty of the annual SMR Cup.

This weekend, real cowboys, the epitome of manly ruggedness, and polo players, a symbol of high-class society, will interact side by side in a three-day series of recreational events for the Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Cup, all in the name of fun and a chance to hoist the coveted Bull Trophy.

The event begins today at the Sarasota Polo Club located at 8201 Polo Club Lane.

“It’s more for the camaraderie and friendships than anything,” said Jason McKendree, cattle manager at SMR who has been the master of ceremonies since 2005.

Since 1991, polo players and cowboys have competed in various events, which will include fishing, skeet shooting, roping, cattle penning (grouping herds), polo and horse racing. There will be six teams this year, with 11 players to each team. Teams are divided into a mixture of cowboys and polo players, which are decided by drawing names from a hat.

This year’s field of teams are Trout and Leigh Insurance, Wildcat Polo, Buccaneer Pawn, Polo Grill and Bar, Beltone Hearing Center, and Pest and Disease Management, LLC. Trout and Leigh Insurance won the event last year.

The team are composed of two types of people who usually don’t mingle, McKendree said.

“Two worlds collide,” said Maryellen Paterson, events manager at Sarasota Polo Club.

The event originated when former polo club president Robin Uihlein and SMR cattle manager Roger Hill conjured the idea of bringing ranching and polo together during an event. Paterson said the participants don’t discover which team they will play for until the night before.

At the end of the event, an individual who demonstrates the most heart will be given the Randy Ballard Award, named after a former SMR cowboy who competed in the event for years. Ballard died of cancer two years ago.

“It’s a huge honor,” McKendree said. “He was a father figure in my opinion.”

Since Ballard’s death, an anonymous donor has donated $500 in scholarship money to be awarded to a student involved in agriculture during the SMR Cup, McKendree said.

Ballard’s wife selects the recipient.

On Saturday, the roping and penning events between 2-5 p.m. are open to the public and on Sunday, the public can attend the horse racing competition during halftime of the polo match, which starts at 1 p.m. The horse race itself is scheduled for 1:45 p.m.

Polo matches are open to the public 1 p.m. Sundays until April 8. General admission is $10 for adults while children 12 and under are free. Gates open at 10 a.m.

“Cowboys are the nicest people you can meet,” Paterson said. “Everyone gets along. It’s a fun-filled weekend.”