If there's any doubt that the Fresno Pedal Junkies are hardcore about their bike polo, it disappears five minutes into their Monday night practice.
It's raining and cold and the players have added rain jackets and hoodies to the normal ensemble of elbow and kneepads, bike helmets and padded gloves.
The court at Fresno's East Rotary Park has gone from dotted with rain to completely drenched, and the bicycles, disc-braked for quick stopping, slide as much as stop. Water sprays up from the wheels as the players chase, then smash at a little yellow ball. Even a good hit, a perfect hit that should send the ball racing to the 3-by-6 foot net at the end of the court, ends in a slow roll.
Mondays are typically rookie night, when the group opens up for new players. There's a loaner bike and mallets, and games are low-key as a way of introducing people to the sport.
This is not that.
"With the tournament so close, everyone wants to play," says Sara Topete Gonzales, watching the action from the side of the court, where funky hip-hop plays from a speaker under a folding chair. A jacket protects it from the rain.
Gonzales and her husband Anthony "Tea" Gonzales have organized Smack in da Middle, Fresno's annual bike polo tournament, for the past seven years. More than two dozen teams will compete in this year's tournament on Saturday and Sunday at East Rotary Park.
Five of the teams have players from the Fresno area.
One of the teams is the reigning North American Bike Polo champions, Topete Gonzales says.
Yes, there is an official governing body and rule set for the sport, which plays out like two-wheeled street hockey or a rolling three-on-three soccer match (the ball is much smaller, obviously). Checking someone from behind is not permitted. Mallet-to-body contact is not permitted. Body-to-bike contact is not permitted, but it still happens – hence the protective gear.
Helmets will be required for all players at the tournament. Face masks are optional. Only once has a player lost a tooth in the tournament.
At the top end, there is an amazing amount of agility that goes into controlling the ball while stopped and balanced on two wheels; or moving swiftly and swinging a mallet, Topete Gonzales says.
The tournament, which is free and open to spectators, is a chance to see those abilities and can be especially eye-opening for those new to the game.
"It's a chance for them to see how potentially awesome this sport can be," she says.
Smack in da Middle
- 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
- East Rotary Park, 6464 N. Cedar Ave.
- Free for spectators
- Smack in da Middle on Facebook
Six other noteworthy events happening this week:
- Vintage Days 10 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Fresno State University. Free, parking not enforced. 559-278-2741, www.fresnostate.edu
- Hickey Hill Festival 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Kings County Fairgrounds, 801 S. 10th Ave., Hanford. $7-$25. 559-796-5834, www.Hickeyhillproject.com
- Lit Hop 1 p.m. Saturday. Various times and locations in Fresno's Tower District. Free and open to the public. lithopfresno.wordpress.com
- Ronnie Milsap 7 p.m. Thursday, April 26. Visalia Fox Theatre, 300 Main St., Visalia. $46-$84. 877-435-9849, www.foxvisalia.org
- Chris Janson Following the Clovis Rodeo Thursday, April 26. Clovis Rodeo Grounds, 748 Rodeo Drive. $30. 559-299-5203, www.clovisrodeo.com