Kareem Rosser first ventured the four miles from the tough West Philadelphia neighborhood known as The Bottom to Chamounix Equestrian Center 11 years ago. He learned how to muck a stall and swing a mallet under Lezlie Hiner, who coaches a team of inner-city teens in the nonprofit Cowtown/Work to Ride polo program (SI, Sept. 20, 2004). The 53-year-old Hiner founded the program, which provides lessons in exchange for labor, in 1994, but the closest her scrappy team had come to a national championship was a heartbreaking loss in the 2010 semifinals.
On March 13, Hiner's boys broke through. Alongside his younger brother Daymar, 16, and Brandon Rease, 15, Rosser, now 18, earned MVP honors and led the Cowtown/Work to Ride team in upending the Baltimore Polo Club 24--17 at the high school nationals.
Kareem and company became the first all-black polo squad to win the title, but he and his teammates had already won big long before they took home the hardware. Polo landed the Rosser brothers full scholarships at Valley Forge Military Academy, from which Kareem will graduate in June, and now he hopes to play at Cornell next year. "Coming from nothing to get involved in a sport for millionaires and kings and queens," he says, "it opens eyes. It shows people that it's worth helping others. To perform well is just another outstanding thing."