Courtesy of the Anuta Research Center
Polo was once an exciting game for Marinette and Menominee sports fans. Crowds up to 3,000 would ring the vast playing field, which now encompasses the southern portion of Menominee County Regional Airport, to watch the M&M Twins compete against some of the top polo clubs in the upper Midwest. Polo was introduced here in about 1936 about succumbed to the tensions that surfaced in World War II (1941-1942). The roster of the M&M Twins included, from left, Leo Dillon, Dr. Howard Sellevold, Dr. Kenneth Pinegar, Don Grossinger and Charles Goldberg. Sellevold, who owned a riding stable in Marinette, organized the team in 1936.
Courtesy of the Anuta Research Center

Polo was once an exciting game for Marinette and Menominee sports fans. Crowds up to 3,000 would ring the vast playing field, which now encompasses the southern portion of Menominee County Regional Airport, to watch the M&M Twins compete against some of the top polo clubs in the upper Midwest. Polo was introduced here in about 1936 about succumbed to the tensions that surfaced in World War II (1941-1942). The roster of the M&M Twins included, from left, Leo Dillon, Dr. Howard Sellevold, Dr. Kenneth Pinegar, Don Grossinger and Charles Goldberg. Sellevold, who owned a riding stable in Marinette, organized the team in 1936.

Polo is a sport that dates back thousands of years. Historians tell us it was popular with the Persians dating to 1,500 to 1,600 B.C.

But a tribe of horsemen from India are said to have put on an exhibition of the wild riding for British Army officers in 1862. One called for hitting a ball with a stick while racing up and down the field. There were no goal posts and no goal lines. The only reason for the act appeared to show the variety of stunts. 

A few days later, the officers decided to try and initiate some of the fancy riding. Someone provided a willow root ball. The officers made some sticks and began hitting the ball up and down the field, having as they put it, “a go at this polo,” which they called the willow root ball, which is made from willow root.

But that didn’t involve any definite contest. So the next time they rode, they fixed goal lines, chose sides and the game was a crude form of modern polo. The rules of the game were modified as its popularity grew. 

That’s the way it was with most of our sports. The rules change from time-to-time. Frankly, some sports change their rules and styles so often it upsets their fan base. 

Frank G. Menke was an authoritative sports historian who authored a magnificent encyclopedia covering amateur and professional sports in America, including their origins, HE died in 1954. I broke into the newspaper business in 1955 as sports editor at Menominee Herald-Leader. I obtained a copy of Menke’s masterpiece. I still use it for research, I referred to it for some of the history pertaining to polo.

Marinette and Menominee have a rich history when it comes to sports — amateur and professional. Football, basketball, baseball, softball, track and field, golf, tennis and boating have been long-serving activities for M&M Nation. Boxing and wrestling have had their entertaining moments on the amateur and professional levels over the years, but have always lacked staying power. 

Polo is one sport that was popular here more than a half century ago, but its life, too, was short-lived. I remember when it was lively and entertaining sport attracted crowds in the 2,000 to 3,000 range on Sunday afternoons at Menominee’s fantasy “Polo Grounds,” which in present-day life is territory occupied by Menominee Regional Airport. 

Not only did I enjoy polo matches, but I got to lead the horse of one of the players from the M&M Twins to the polo grounds. It was one of my birthrights for growing up in Menominee’s West End. More on that in the column.

I’m not sure of the exact life span of polo in Menominee and Marinette, but I know it existed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. World War II was in progress and there wasn’t much entertainment for local folks. The movie theater was a big hit. Bowling and dartball leagues were organized in the Twin Cities. Many of the games were played in the basement of the family home. 

Horseback riding was a good pastime when the weather was more favorable. Menominee had a riding stable at the old “Round Barn,” which was located on Highway 577 at the western edge of Park Avenue (18th Avenue), not far from today’s airport grounds. 

 One of the players on the M&M Twins was Charley Goldberg, a personable and likable Marinette man who ran a successful men’s clothing store on Hall Avenue. I knew Goldberg the polo star in my tender years at it wasn’t until my later newspaper years when we became friends. Goldberg was a member of the advisory board of the Green Bay Packers when the team was struggling to stay alive in the NFL. He loved to promote ticket sales in the M&M area and he tapped the newspaper for help. 

Goldberg would invite coaches and players from the Packers to come to Marinette for social visits at the old Silver Dome in the 1950’s and 60’s. He would host a “smoker party” where fans could have a beer and consume sausage, cheese and crackers. Goldberg and I, along with Jimmy Gleason of the Marinette Eagle-Star and Bud Vieth, Goldberg’s top aide in the clothing business, would attend press parties hosted by the Packers during the Vince Lombardi era. 

Goldberg loved talking about the days when he was a polo player and the M&M Twins were among the stronger teams in the Midwest Polo League, which included teams from Milwaukee, Chicago, the northern suburbs of Chicago and Minneapolis. 

Some of the players on the Twins were Dr. Howard Sellevold, Dr. Kenneth G. Pinegar, Owen Pinegar, Don Grossinger and Leo Dillon, the latter from Green Bay. Although not an original member of the team, Cy Hoebreckx, a Marinette-Menominee businessman, also was a team member. 

Sellevold owned a riding academy on Shore Drive and is credited with putting the M&M Twins together to compete against the finest in the Midwest. The Pinegar brothers were his first recruits.

A 300-yard long polo field, 100 yards wide, was carved out in the southern section of the present-day airport. The goal posts were 24 feet apart. Because of the strenuous nature of the game, each rider used two to four horses per game. The ponies were not show horses, but specifically bred for speed and mobility. Most of the horses used by the local team were raised in Texas. 

One of Dr. Sellevold’s horses was named Smokey. I got to lead Smokey from the Round Barn stable to the polo field. The joyful task was twofold — I got to lead a beautiful horse to the playing field and I got to see the game without buying a ticket. We usually got a 25-cent tip if the home team won its match. 

Four players made up the lineup for the Twins. Goldberg played the No. 1 position; Dr. Ken Pinegar the No. 2 position; Sellevold was at No. 3 and Dillon was at No. 4 position and was known as the “back” or “goal tender” post.

According to the Herald-Leader, a record crowd cheered the M&M Twins to a 11-5 win over Brookfield in a 1939 contest. Fans come from the Upper Peninsula and Green Bay area when the Twins played at home. 

World War II erupted on Dec. 7, 1941. Like so many other sports teams across America, the M&M Twins were forced to disband. Men were summoned to military service, and gasoline rationing put the brakes on travel. 

The M&M polo team may have had a short life span on the playing field, but its mallets carved a long history in the M&M lore.