Madera polo players faced pistols in Vallejo
Courtesy of The Madera County Historical Society Looking none the worse from their ordeal in Vallejo, Madera’s championship roller polo team of 1908 posed for this photograph. Front row, from left, are Wilbur Leggett, Frank Barnett, and Virgil Gordon. Back row, from left, includes Clarence Pickett, Charles Leggett, D. Stevens, and Jim Holmes.
The young Madera athlete was distracted by the taunts of the referee and more than a little surprised when the official engaged him in an argument right in the middle of the game. Where was the impartiality that every sports team had a right to expect, no matter whether it was playing on the hometown rink or on that of some other city?
Frank Barnett was furious! He knew how to tend goal and he didn’t need anybody from Vallejo to tell him how to play roller polo. He had led Madera’s team in honing the sport to a fine art at the city’s rink on D Street, and in 1908, the boys were having a banner year. By the end of spring, Madera had the only undefeated team in the league. Perhaps that was why the local lads were receiving such brutal treatment from officials and fans alike on this road trip.
It was Saturday morning, April 27, when the Madera team boarded the train at the Southern Pacific depot and headed in high spirits for the Bay Area. They were counting on Frank Barnett to help them keep the team record unblemished by continuing to display his prowess at defending the goal. It was with an air of confidence that the Madera boys entered the Vallejo rink to take on the local team twice that weekend — once on Saturday evening and again on Sunday. As things turned out, only the first game was played.
When Barnett and his comrades left the dressing room, they were treated to a cacophony of hoots and jeers; something was definitely wrong. The audience had blood in its eyes, and the game had not even begun. As the players circled the rink, taking their warm-ups, the absence of a railing separating them from the fans became an obvious hazard. Several of the Vallejo patrons made menacing gestures in an attempt to unnerve the visitors. The situation had all of the portents of a very interesting evening.
Finally the game began, and Barnett worked his usual magic as goal tender. The Vallejo team did not score during the first quarter. Madera, on the other hand, had leaped on the board with a sizzling shot by John Augustine that sailed right into the Vallejo net. The fans roared their disapproval, and things turned ugly.
During the second quarter, there were no additional scores but plenty of action. As the Madera Mercury reported, “It looked at one time as if the savages who sat in the audience would be satisfied with nothing less than the blood of the visitors to atone for the poor showing of the Vallejo team.”
The reporter went on to note that, “A hand or foot would be thrust out, and the Madera players would then be punched or tripped.” Any Madera player who strayed too close to the edge of the rink was fair game. Augustine was to report later that he had received “some rough treatment playing football and baseball, but never in his experience had he been so harshly dealt with by the spectators.”
During the third quarter, the Vallejo team evened up the score with the assistance of the referee. Charging that Barnett was playing a bit too aggressively, the official proceeded to berate him without calling a time out. Barnett, who was not one to be chastised publicly, jumped to his own defense, whereupon a Vallejo player, taking advantage of the untended goal, made an easy score. Now the tally stood one to one, much to the consternation of the Madera team.
Then in the last quarter, Virgil Gordon, although receiving “extremely bad treatment,” made an easy score. Prior to this game-winning shot, he had been struck by a spectator and knocked to the ground. The Vallejo crowd was beside itself. Hands and feet were thrust out, punching and tripping the Madera players. It was pure bedlam — so much so that some of the young men from Madera were happy to leave the rink with their lives.
The conclusion of the game did not end the vituperation to which the Madera players were subjected. A local newspaper reporter and two of his cronies followed them to the dressing room where the newsman proceeded to give the Madera team a tongue lashing and promised Frank Barnett, for whom he seemed to have an especially high level of animosity, that a scathing article would be forthcoming about his unsportsmanlike conduct on the court. Barnett could not believe his ears!
The Madera player had had enough. He stepped up to challenge the reporter. While Barnett protested that the Madera team had played fair and that “none of their other opponents had ever found fault with their playing,” he was stopped dead in his tracks. Right in the middle of Barnett’s spirited defense, both of the reporter’s companions drew pistols and very persuasively encouraged him to resume his place at his locker.
A quiet settled over the locker room; the invaders left, and the Madera team packed up to head for home. No matter that the Vallejo manager, a man by the name of Brouillet, came down to apologize; the Maderans simply had no heart for Sunday’s contest. They brought their single victory back to their hometown where it would be appreciated.
The Madera roller polo team continued its winning ways and won the state championship in 1908. No doubt, there were other tense times during the remainder of the season, but surely none that would rival that sojourn to Vallejo. When the championship banner was displayed in the Madera rink, no one doubted that it was well earned. Madera could properly be proud of both the skill and restraint of its team.