By Y.A. Teitelbaum
Life revolves around the sport polo for Tony Coppola and his son, Matt Coppola.
Tony is widely recognized in polo circles as the “Voice of Polo” and owner of The Tackeria, a full-service equestrian supply store that has been serving Wellington for more than 45 years. His résumé is long and varied, having been a player, a club manager and an umpire before turning full time to the business side.
In addition to his full-time job running a very successful store, Tony is also deeply involved in numerous charitable groups focused around polo. He is in his first term as president of the United States Polo Association, while also serving as president of the Polo Training Foundation. He is a board member of the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame, and he co-founded the Polo Players Support Group in 2000 with Dave Offen and Tim Gannon, and remains on that board, too.
In 2006, Tony was awarded the Philip Iglehart Award for lifetime contributions to the sport by the U.S. Polo Museum. But it’s his announcing that has given him the highest profile.
Becoming an announcer early on was a conscious choice for Tony, who grew up on Long Island in New York, interested in polo and horses. His father passed away while Tony was serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Upon returning home, he took over the family’s pool construction business but also resumed an interest in polo throughout the northeast. He sold the family business and started building his polo tack business, in addition to other jobs in the sport.
“I was being paid for being an umpire, but as I started growing my business, I figured being an announcer offended less people than being an umpire,” Tony said, smiling.
And a legend was born.
Almost every Sunday afternoon during winter polo season, the 75-year-old is behind the microphone calling the fast-paced action on the International Polo Club Palm Beach stadium field in Wellington. He has also been the announcer for 42 U.S. Opens, having seen the best of the best on the field for generations.
While his father is behind the mic, being one of the sport’s better players is his son’s goal.
Matt currently carries a 5-goal handicap (10 is the highest) and has had a taste of high-goal polo, the elite tier where many of the best players in the world compete.
He has primarily played high-goal polo at IPC for the last three seasons and previously was a substitute in four games in the 2011 U.S. Open.
“My goal in life, I want to win the U.S. Open,” said the 27-year-old, who came close twice — in 2021 when his team Park Place finished as the runner-up, and in 2019 when his team Las Monjitas was a finalist. “I’m working hard. I have a good staff behind me. It’s a team effort.”
A big part of that team are his parents, who although divorced, remain close. His mother, Jesse, works at The Tackeria, as does Matt, and she is always on the sidelines at his matches. But it was his father who taught him how to swing the mallet and ride.
“He helped me a lot in the beginning of my career to get me mounted with quality horses,” said Matt, who will have 26 horses for the 2022 winter season while playing in the 16-goal league with Tonkawa and the 12-goal tournaments with Meyer Ranch. “Now we buy horses together and have a breeding operation together.”
His mother has also been an integral part of the team. Early on, she used to ride the horses to help get them in game shape, but she has stepped back from that role. She also owns some of the green horses with Tony and Matt.
“We [Matt and I] are both so incredibly competitive,” Jesse said. “I think I always just tell him to play his game. No matter where he is in the world, I send him a text. It’s the same one every time. It’s simply, ‘Play well, be safe, I love you.’”
The Coppolas have a farm in Wellington and recently purchased a place in Aiken, South Carolina, with Matt naming it Sundele, after two of his top horses, Sundance and Adele.
“I’m putting a lot of work and investments into improving my horses,” said Matt, who was born and raised in Wellington. “I’ve really learned how to manage the horses, and I’m investing the right way.”
Tony said the best advice he gave to Matt was simple.
“The first is to keep yourself well-mounted. Second, establish good relationships with sponsors and other players,” Tony recalled. “He has gotten a reputation for being well-mounted, and he is becoming a good horseman and rider.”
Matt is also constantly thinking about his long-term future in the sport.
“Everybody wants to be 10 goals,” he said. “I’m working to be 8 goals and known for good horses. I want to be successful, to be known as a top American player. I’m putting in a lot of work and investments into improving my horses.”
Matt almost chose a different path, because there was a time when he didn’t want anything to do with the sport.
“I enjoyed it, and then I had a little bit of a fall when I was 10 or 11, and I quit for three years,” remembered Matt, who took up baseball and tennis instead. “I was deathly afraid of horses. I was playing bike polo one day and [legendary Hall of Famer] Memo [Gracida] was watching, and he told me I have to start riding again.”
So Gracida had Matt come to his farm, where he put the then teenager on a horse, but not just any horse.
“The horse was an unbroken horse, and he put me on with no saddle, no nothing, and it threw me three or four times in a little corral, and ever since then, I was never scared again,” Matt said. “I overcame the fear and started playing again.”
He has been recognized off the field and is sponsored by Ona gloves and is a global brand ambassador for U.S. Polo Assn., the official apparel brand for the United States Polo Association. He is also a graduating member of Team USPA, a program developed and managed by the national organization to improve young American polo players.
Seven-goaler Jeff Hall, one the few current elite U.S. players, believes Coppola can continue his rise up the ranks. “He is a talented player who just needs more time in the high-goal,” Hall said.
Whether it’s on the polo field or in the announcer’s booth, it’s home to Tony and Matt Coppola.