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A galloping gala

WL polo grounds host tournament to benefit American Cancer Society

TIDINGS PHOTOS: PATRICK MALEE - For the first time in its 12-year history, the annual American Cancer Society Hope Ball also featured a polo tournament held at West Linn's Hidden Creek Polo Club.After 12 years of putting on an annual “Hope Ball,” the Portland branch of the American Cancer Society wanted to shake things up in 2016.

The Hope Ball events, which typically feature an auction to raise money for cancer research, have frequently been held at the Portland Art Museum. While that location was perfectly amenable, organizers were looking for a way to expand the event’s reach and found a perfect opportunity when a couple offered up their West Linn polo grounds for what would eventually be called the Portland Hope Ball and Polo Classic.

And so it was that on Saturday, Aug. 20, more than 600 attendees were treated to a “world-class” polo match along with the usual auctions (both silent and live), food and drinks.

“We wanted to do something different that would engage a newer and larger crowd, and offer something that’s just a unique experience, different from the typical auction,” said Curtis Thomas, a senior marketing manager with the American Cancer Society. “We thought, ‘This is going to be a challenging event to pull off,’ but we think it could be something unique and special, and quite different from a lot of the other galas that take place in the (Portland) Art Museum.”

The polo ground owners, Sean and Gretchen Keys, offered up the venue — Hidden Creek Polo Club — free of charge, and Sean Keys also played in the polo match. The rest of the players were flown in from around the world.”They were flown in by the Keys to play,” Thomas said. “I know some are from Argentina.”

The polo game, silent auction and a cocktail hour took place simultaneously beginning at around 5 p.m. According to Thomas, the majority of funds raised at the event go to the American Cancer Society’s general fund, while funds from the “paddle raise” portion of the auction were directed to a more specific cause.

A referee pauses during a break in the action.

“We do a paddle raise that actually will go to increasing colorectal cancer screening rates in Oregon specifically, so all of that money will be used in Oregon,” Thomas said. “(Those funds) will be used to increase clinician trainings, to do systems upgrades, to do targeted outreach in minority populations that have lower screening rates.”

As for the polo match itself, attendees watched from atop a hill through six periods (or “chuckers” in polo parlance), which were shortened from six-and-a-half to five-and-a-half minutes due to stifling temperatures.

While the numbers have yet to be finalized, event organizer Lisa Bergeson estimated that the event generated just over $500,000. The paddle raise alone generated $125,000, well exceeding a goal of $100,000.

“We were thrilled with the turnout and humbled by the the generosity of our attendees and event chairs, Sean and Gretchen Keys,” Bergeson said.

The polo tournament featured a slew of international players flown in by event chairs Sean and Gretchen Keys, who own the venue. Sean Keys also played in the tournament.

Attendees watched the action from atop a hill. A silent auction and cocktail hour also took place during the polo tournament, followed by a live auction later that evening.

The polo tournament was meant to shake things up and potentially attract a new audience to the popular Hope Ball.