A life on the streets in west Philadelphia is a life of struggle, crime and for some, death. Without a direction toward the future academically, a young boy growing up in what many would call the hood looked for a way out a life to nowhere.
Kareem Rosser, a son to a single mother and brother to three changed his fate with the support of a horse and mallet. At the age of eight, Rosser followed in the footsteps of his two older brothers working at non-profit barn for a chance to ride.
“I had no idea what was going to get me out of that situation,” Rosser said. “Once I started to ride, it became a way for me to stay off the streets.”
Rosser joined a club called “Work To Ride,” the only African-American inner city polo team in the country. A sport played by kings, celebrities and royalty was represented by young aspiring boys who wanted a chance to do something better.
“Obviously he did not start with a whole lot when he started playing,” CSU Polo President Ryan Hattara said. “When you want to get into polo, you often follow in the footsteps of your parents who had horses and grew up in that lifestyle, Kareem did not have that.”
Without ideal conditions to play, Rosser and his teammates made the most of it.
“All I did growing up was go to school and go to the stable; I loved it,” Rosser said. “The ability to play for 11 years was a privilege, and without it, I do not know what my life would look like now.”
To play on the stables team, everyone went through an interview process in order to determine if they had enough time to commit as well as if their grades were up to shape. Without having to spend any money on equipment or his own horse, Rosser had it all except for his academics.
“It was funny because when I first started the program, I was an F student,” Rosser said. “To stay on the team I needed to change and it just clicked. I learned how to study in classes and I ended up graduating high school with a 3.9 GPA.”
Before Rosser graduated high school, he, along side his younger brother and friend from down the street, went on to compete in the high school national championships. In a 24-17 victory, the Word to Ride program became the first all African-American team to win on the national level. It was not until high school that Rosser knew we wanted to continue playing polo at the collegiate level.
While a chance to play at Cornell slipped away, Rosser never gave up. He went and played for one year at an upstate New York junior college.
“I knew that If I did not get into Cornell, I wanted to get far away from Philadelphia. I heard a lot of things about Colorado State University and the polo team, so one day I just packed my bags and left,” he said.
In his first year at CSU, Rosser made the varsity team that went on to compete at nationals. With the loss of two seniors at the start of the 2013-14 season in fall, Rosser led the Rams this year as player one. The offensive force of Rosser came to a close in a loss to Texas A&M at regionals last weekend.
“This year in particular he has taken on a leadership role,” Hattara said.”It’s comforting to have him on the field. He doesn’t take a lot of things for granted and it’s kind of a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of people that do not appreciate how good they have it.”
With several strikes against Rosser from a young age, he has taken a sport meant for the rich, famous and royal to a point of national recognition. He has changed his stars in high school, college and heading into the professional role as a economics major.
“I am not ruling out professional polo, but it is really hard to get into,” Rosser said. “I have a bright future ahead of me and I am excited to make a future for myself outside of an arena.”
Rosser’s story has also been told by 60 Minutes, CBS News and ABC.
Collegian Assistant Sports Editor Haleigh Hamblin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @haleighhamblin.