By Elaine Ubiña

It was a historic year for water polo. The Junior Olympics and the Summer Olympics were held at the same time and the JOs were held in the Dallas – Fort Worth area instead of northern or southern California, for all the teams from other regions of the United States. It was an interesting change for the Greenwich Aquatics teams and parents. It is always a bonding experience, whether through kids playing, parents cheering, team meals – parents and kids. This year, it was a similar experience, just add a rodeo!

Our 13 year old, Julio and I flew down on Wednesday to meet up with our 14U Boys Team. The entire Greenwich Aquatics team, around 100 athletes and their parents stayed at the DFW Hilton Conference, which was centrally located and had very comfortable beds, tennis courts we did not use in the 100 degree weather, indoor and outdoor pools and was situated next door to the world’s largest Bass Pro Shops, a win when traveling with a big fan of bass fishing (which seems like a trend with teenage boys).

Over four days, our seven water polo teams spanned out to twelve aquatics centers in the DFW Metroplex. Games began on Thursday and ran through to the championship and final rounds on Sunday. It was an exciting tournament with our teams placing 1st through 6th in all the divisions. The competition came from all over the United States, from Utah and Montana to Oswego, NY! They were polished and excellent competitors.

Greenwich Aquatics fully embraced the Texas experience. It was interesting to see charming towns like Denton, Texas, home of the Texas Women’s University. We enjoyed two terrific team brunches at The Great Egg and Cartwright’s Ranch House. The restaurants were accommodating to fit our group of 32 and provided wonderful home style meals, including grits and eggs, chilaquiles, and giant waffles for our athletes and their parents.

Most of us attended a Friday night rodeo. It was a treat to go to the famous Joe T. Garcia’s for a Mexican dinner followed by a sold out show in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. We enjoyed the slice of Americana and showmanship by the cowboys and cowgirls. It is an amazing tradition of horsemanship and bravery.

Our Saturday was spent in beautiful Highland Park. The brand new high school aquatics center architecture is impressive. We had a delicious Italian lunch at Penne Pomodoro and drowned our sorrows, after a late evening loss in soufflés at Rise, a very cute French spot.

As the JOs wrapped up on Sunday morning, Julio and I returned to the Fort Worth Stockyards to try the new Hotel Drover for a night. It is part of the Autograph Collection of Marriott. Designed over-the-top in Western style, The Drovers is a gem. We arrived and were greeted by a friendly and helpful staff, all dressed in their jeans, cowboy boots and hats. We relished the Sunday buffet brunch at 97 West. The atmosphere in the restaurant was very upbeat, as families and friend groups enjoyed the fresh eggs, tacos and generous drinks from the bar. Everything down to the plates and glasses looked like they would be found at a ranch house.

Our room was a stunner! It was a comfortable size with a large, gorgeous bathroom with a giant shower, king size bed and double twin bunk bed overhead. Perfect size for a family of four. The Cowboy theme continued with beautiful horse framed photos, a silver belt buckle collection and many other details including ranch brands on the carpet to metal spittoons and a special leather covered bench to remove one’s boots by the door. The closet was a specially outfitted wardrobe containing a bar set up, mini fridge and safe, along with some very comfy bathrobes.

We suited up and headed down to the beautiful swimming pool with hot tub, lounges and several cabanas. There are lots of fire pits scattered around the manicured lawn and native garden and a lively bar scene on a covered patio with a cowboy guitarist singing Texas tunes.

A sudden thunderstorm cut our swim short and sent us indoors to peruse the chic hotel shops, Lucchese Custom Collection and Wide Brim. We changed our clothes and headed back out with our room’s handy umbrella to explore the Stockyards. Up and down cobble stone Mule Alley and Exchange Place are bars, restaurants and souvenir shops selling everything “Texas,” cowboy hats and boots, clothing, hot sauce, salsa and many other goodies. The entire town has been restored using the original stockyard buildings and streets. The train tracks that brought the cattle in to be bought and sold run right through the town and into the building where the cows were off-loaded and put into pens. The stalls are now shops selling more souvenirs and ice cream. There was a candy store with barrels overflowing with every kind of candy ever made! My companion was overjoyed!

Dinner on our last night was at Provender Hall. We had the fried okra and pimento cheese to start, with a delicious trout and venison tartare for our main courses. There were several steak and beef selections on the menu that looked enticing, as well and the wine list had a nice assortment to accompany the menu.

I rose early on our final morning to try the fantastic, spotless gym at The Drover. It is outfitted with everything, including two Peloton bikes, a Mirror, a Gerren, treadmills, weights and lots of room to move around. Julio enjoyed a pastry buffet and cappuccino in the spacious lobby. We highly recommend a night or two at Hotel Drover when visiting the Ft. Worth area.