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Polo on the Prairie Funds Pivotal M. D. Anderson Initiatives

Polo on the Prairie Funds Pivotal M. D. Anderson Initiatives
Unique event blends West Texas hospitality with international sport
M. D. Anderson News Release 04/02/04

The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center is gearing up for the18th annual fund-raiser, Polo on the Prairie, which will be held May 1 at the Musselman Brothers Lazy 3 Ranch in Albany.

After losing his mother to cancer and seeing the effects of the disease on several friends and family members, M. D. Anderson Board of Visitors member, Henry Musselman, along with his wife, Melinda and her mother, Mary Anne McCloud, also a board member, turned a portion of his family ranch into a regulation polo field for the sole purpose of holding a fund-raiser for M. D. Anderson. Since 1987, the event has raised more than $2.3 million for cancer patient care, research, prevention and education.

This year, approximately 1,500 guests will enjoy barbecue, fireworks, music by country and western artist Gary P. Nunn and a U. S. Air Force fly over, but the real draw is the competition of the matches. More than 100 horses and approximately 30 polo players and their families will arrive the week of the event — one that takes most of the year to organize.

“The fast pace and thundering hooves of the horses thrill the crowd, but for us, the excitement is seeing the difference Polo on the Prairie makes to cancer patients at M. D. Anderson. Because we have seen our loved ones suffer through cancer and treatment, we felt compelled to do something about the terrible disease,” McCloud says. “M. D. Anderson’s mission of eliminating cancer is important to us and others, and we are privileged to be advocates of such an incredible place.”

“At the first Polo on the Prairie, we didn’t anticipate that it would become an annual event, but people kept talking about ‘next year,’ so we started organizing it,” says Melinda Musselman. “That was 18 years ago. Our son, Luke, was only three years old then — this will be his third year to play in Polo on the Prairie.”

Participants are either amateur or professional players registered with the United States Polo Association (USPA), and travel to West Texas from various parts of the United States. Twenty-six year-old Floridian, Jeff Blake, is touted as one of the best polo players in the country. Having won the USPA Gold Cup with the Outback Steakhouse team in 1999, Blake competes nationwide, but anticipates playing in Polo on the Prairie.

“Last year was my first to play in Polo on the Prairie, and I’m looking forward to seeing all my friends and fellow players again this year,” Blake says. “But the most exciting part is the opportunity to play for such a great cause.”

With year-round preparation required, teams are organized, paddocks for more than 100 horses are erected, and the field is prepared for play. Water pumps are put in place for field and livestock watering and power is run to light up the prairie. Feeding and exercising the horses keep players and grooms busy.

“This event could not happen without the incredible commitment of more than 100 people who donate their time and services to make it a success,” Henry Musselman says. “We are so appreciative of that selfless support, which includes everything from BFI hauling our trash and providing dumpsters to Neff’s Nursery donating the beautiful red geraniums and Wal-Mart contributing the pots.”

Activities surrounding Polo on the Prairie begin long before the matches start. Since 1995, sixth grade teachers in nearby Eastland have incorporated polo and cancer topics into their curriculum. The rules and history of the game, as well as cancer education, prevention and science find their way into mathematics and health classes. Students then take a field trip out to the ranch where they watch the playoff games and meet some of the players.

“The children understand the game and the purpose for Polo on the Prairie,” says McCloud. “Most importantly, though, they learn that joy comes by giving to others.”

This year, Texas artist Gary P. Nunn will perform at the event. Nunn began his musical career as a seventh-grader in a garage band in Brownfield, Texas. He has produced seven albums and made several national television appearances, including Nashville Now, TNN’s Texas Connections, and Austin City Limits. Nunn has written numerous songs recorded by Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Martin Murphey, Roseanne Cash and David Allen Coe, earning him several gold and platinum records for writing, publishing and performing. His sound is an eclectic blend of rock, folk and country.

Key M. D. Anderson programs that this year’s Polo on the Prairie will support include:

Science Park/Library — The library links researchers at M. D. Anderson’s Smithville, Texas campus to scientific literature and journals. It furthers the work at M. D. Anderson’s Department of Carcinogenesis headquartered there, a facility that researches the causes of cancer.

The Anderson Network Hospitality Room — Proceeds will support this special “patient oasis” at M. D. Anderson where patients or family members may stop in for refreshment, comfort and assistance from volunteers who have had similar cancer experiences.

Polo on the Prairie also will support three programs at M. D. Anderson called Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE). These programs promote interdisciplinary research and speed the exchange between basic and clinical science to move basic research findings from the lab to the clinic.

Melanoma SPORE — Money will fund melanoma research fellows and/or non-tenured junior faculty members for two-year commitments to identify melanoma-specific DNA mutations and other molecular alterations, leading to new treatments and prevention approaches. These junior researchers are to be mentored by the SPORE leadership with the goal of becoming melanoma research specialists.

Lung Cancer SPORE — Money will be used to support research on new molecularly targeted therapies in lung cancer. Funds will also support the study of genetic susceptibility to the disease directed toward developing new methods of preventing lung cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer SPORE — Funds will be used in the development of novel approaches to treat and prevent pancreatic cancer by supporting existing programs in the therapy and biology of pancreatic cancer, and developing new methods of risk assessment and prevention.

For information about sponsorships or the event, call (800) 525-5841 or (713) 792-3450.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center