Texas A&M polo coach Mike McCleary is very familiar with Culver Academies, even though he had not set foot on campus until this past weekend. Culver has been sending the 15-time national championship coach players since the early 1970s.
The latest in that long line of players are Ally Vaughn ’16, who played on the 2019 and 2018 national championship women’s teams, and Ashley Dillard ’17, who moves up this year. Other recent players include Rachel Redington Werner ’93, Jake Little ’04, Michael Berto ’09, Devin Vass ’10, and Bennett Hoback ’14, who worked on the Texas A&M Polo Farm.
The women have won four national championships and the men have won 11. Both teams have won their respective national titles for the past two years. Texas A&M is part of the United States Polo Association’s Intercollegiate program. There are 38 established programs representing 22 men’s teams and 28 women’s teams. Culver is a member of the USPA Interscholastic program.
McCleary was the guest clinician at a two-day program for junior varsity and varsity players, taking them through a series of drills and strategy sessions. He is an honorary USPA certified polo instructor and has been a member of USPA for more than 45 years. His visit to Culver was supported by the Desich Family Polo Endowment, which was established by brothers Rich ’94 and Jeff ’95 Desich, who both played polo at Culver..
McCleary didn’t arrive in College Station, Texas, to play polo. He started in 1968 as a member of the Aggies’ football team, playing on the last squad coached by Hall of Fame coach Gene Stallings. He was a fast learner, figuring out after “just two years” that football was not for him.
He left school, married his high school sweetheart, returned to campus, started playing polo and “never left.” Well, he added, there was actually a two-year stint when he ended up at Colorado State, where he won back-to-back national championships, before coming back to Texas A&M.
McCleary said he has been at Texas A&M so long, he is now coaching the grandchildren of his original players. Every Thanksgiving, he hosts past and present players. He has a table that seats 20 people and every seat is filled every year.