East County’s Polon bucks odds, earns LAKHSHL scholarship
Robert Polon had been playing hockey nearly his entire life when his time on the ice abruptly ended after his eighth-grade season due to a series of concussions.
He had skated for the L.A. Jr. Kings, L.A. Hockey and California Golden Bears growing up, but with the risks of serious and permanent damage mounting with each injury, he and his family decided the smart move was to hang up his skates for a while.
Before the start of the 2016-17 school year, he decided to give hockey another go, and made the varsity squad of the East County Outlaws as a defenseman – only to see his season end after 15 games because of a broken leg.
So when he applied for the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League scholarship this spring, it was only natural that the senior at William Howard Taft High School in the San Fernando Valley would focus on those injuries and how he hoped to pursue a career in medicine so he could one day help others in his situation.
“I want to be able to help kids who are injured playing sports,” Polon said. “I had a lot of injuries in hockey growing up, and I feel like this is a good way to give back to the community that has given so much to me throughout my life.”
The award was started during the league’s inaugural season last year, and its purpose is to reward a deserving senior from any of the league’s 10 teams for outstanding academic achievement.
“Each year, we award a senior who has excelled throughout their time in high school with a $2,000 scholarship to be used at whatever college they plan on attending,” said Emma Tani, the leagues and rinks coordinator in the L.A. Kings’ Hockey Development division. “We had a number of outstanding applications this year, but Robert’s really stood above all the rest.”
Polon plans to attend UC Davis starting this fall and will major in Biological Sciences. He has achieved an unweighted 3.6 grade-point average, though it’s closer to 4.1 when weighted to factor in the many advanced-placement classes he has taken throughout his four years at Taft.
He said he has recovered from the broken leg and is able to skate again, and he’ll consider playing on the club hockey team at Davis. After college, he hopes to play in adult leagues and be involved in hockey as long as he can.
Tani said the written portion of Polon’s application and his altruism in wanting to become part of the medical community to help others like him were what caught the eye of the committee of league staffers going over all the applicants.
“His essay really stood out to us,” Tani said. “We saw a lot of potential in him, and there was a lot of support for him when our department sat down to discuss the top candidates, so we’re really pleased to be able to award him this scholarship.”
Polon learned he had been selected to receive the scholarship shortly after the season ended.
“I put a lot of time and effort into the application, so I wasn’t surprised, but I definitely feel honored to have received the award,” Polon said. “I was pretty ecstatic, because my hard work has paid off, and hockey is going to help me give back.”
The scholarship isn’t a huge one in terms of college tuition dollars offset, but it’s an important part of what the Kings’ high school league is doing to recognize its players who excel in the classroom.
“It’s a small incentive and a good way to emphasize that we value academic success as well as athletic success,” Tani said. “That’s an important part of who we are as a league.”
— Greg Ball