24 April 2006
St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland, USA
story by Wendi Winters in The Capital, Annapolis, Maryland, USA
photo by Alison Harbaugh in The Capital, Annapolis, Maryland, USA
|Midshipman 1st Class Pete Daderko hits the ball toward the wicket.|
Gloomy skies and scattered showers yesterday did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 1,000 or more croquet-for-a-day fans who turned out to sip champagne and cheer on two cross-town rivals.
By the time the games ended, over five hours later, the sun came out and helped swell the crowd to over 2,500 on the emerald green lawn in downtown Annapolis.
It was a spectator sport where it was all right to make a spectacle of oneself. Many did, promenading in vintage and homemade costumes and shielding themselves from the sun with sunbrellas and pretty, painted paper parasols.
William Henley of Severna Park modeled plus fours he made himself by cutting up a pair of tattersal check Dockers. He paired them with a handsome cardigan - a thrift shop find - and topped it with an 80-year-old straw boater that had belonged to his grandfather.
"If you take care of things," he confided, "they'll take care of you." In the background, sounds of jazz, swing and Big Band music set the mood. Some couples ignored the games entirely. They touch danced all afternoon on a nearby brick patio.
Game time on three playing courts, cordoned with white string, was 1 p.m., after Ginger Cove resident Ellan Reynes hit a ceremonial ball onto a court to start the 24th annual David and Goliath match.
But an hour before that, nearly all the prime space had been usurped by tents, tarps doubling as picnic blankets, and a hammock or two. There was even a huge, dusty blue couch planted on the sideline.
For the 19th time, the slick, uber-confident Navy team was defeated by the raffish-looking crew of St. John's.
But the biggest question among the crowd wasn't the point spread when the Johnnies won, but rather, what kind of outlandish, non-conformist outfits would the Johnnies wear to express their inner Zen this year?
The mids, members of the 28th Company, were garbed according to the U.S. Croquet Association's code, in an all white uniform of Gatsby-esque cardigan sweaters, starched shirts, pressed trousers and immaculate leather shoes. They strolled out, the epitome of nonchalant elegance, wielding gleaming hardwood mallets, custom-made in New Zealand, and took their place on a court.
Moments later, to the loud rock beat of the Beatles' "Back In The U.S.S.R.," the Johnnies came roaring out - and the audience roared in delight.
Resurrecting the Cold War rivalry between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, the team wore Commie Red T-shirts emblazoned with a familiar gold sickle and hammer - wait a minute, that's a sickle and croquet mallet.
Below the sickle was Cyrillic-style lettering, "SJCCCP." Not the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; it spelled out St. John's College Croquet Club Party.
As the mids shook their heads in mock disbelief, the Johnnies addressed each other as "comrade" and spoke in bad Boris Badenov accents.
"I vill crushhh you!" hissed one mallet-waving bearded Bolshevik, er, Johnny.
It was a best of five contest. After the Johnnies scored two victories, Navy was poised to win the third. At 4 p.m., during a seesawing contest, a Johnny broke the mids' stranglehood on a key wicket with a down-the-court stroke and went on to score the winning shot. St. John's victory in the next two games was gravy.
Last year, in an upset, the mids beat their rivals for the Annapolis Cup, even though the Johnnies had won the intercollegiate croquet championships.
As the main game ricocheted across the three courts, the real game went on alongside the playing areas. Tables groaned with heavy silver candelabras, voluptuous silver champagne buckets, giant floral centerpieces and linens.
Manhattanite Nick Zakheim, a St. John's senior, in a 1950s vintage dotted Swiss floor-length peach satin dress, chatted with Anna Breon, a senior from Jersey Shore, Pa. Ms. Breon wore a lavender bustled 1880s milkmaid outfit she made herself.
"It's supposed to be a garden party," Ms. Zakheim noted waving a white gloved hand. "We're all wine and cheesers as opposed to beer and chips."
She wrinkled her nose in the direction of several stogie-smoking mids.
The only real spot of color on the croquet uniform of Midshipman 2nd Class Michelle Matthews of Ellenton, Fla., was her bright pink necktie.
"Pink is my favorite color. Even the handle of my mallet is wrapped in pink," she smiled.
It was the first match for both Midshipman Matthews and Midshipman 1st Class Matt Weant.
"Compared to the Johnnies, we do one-tenth the practice," Midshipman Weant said. "They're out practicing every time we go by."
Midshipmen 1st Class Tom Ham and Tim O'Keefe surveyed the crowd from a different perspective. They were on duty as Task Force members, assigned to monitor and curb rowdy behavior.
Midshipman Ham admitted he knew "pretty much nothing about croquet."
"They hit balls around the field," offered Midshipman O'Keefe. "It's turned into an ideological battled this year as well with their red shirts and berets. It's kind of funny. They even sang the Navy hymn at the start of the games, but with their own semi-insulting lyrics."
When his classmate stated the game was not as big as the Army vs. Navy football rivalry, Midshipman O'Keefe mused:
"Maybe for the Johnnies it is. But, it's a good cross-town rivalry."
Midshipmen Lose Every Game Despite Recent Whiff of Reversal
24 April 2006
St. John's College, Annapolis, Maryland, USA
story by Daniel de Vise in The Washington Post, Washington, District of Columbia, USA
Geremy Coy's ball hit the stake with a dull thud at 4:27 p.m. yesterday, sealing an emotional victory for St. John's College in its annual croquet match against the U.S. Naval Academy. Red-clad teammates mobbed the senior and doused him with beer, a scene reminiscent of the 2004 Red Sox world championship win, except for the hammer-and-sickle designs on the jerseys.
"It's their time," said Sam Spalding, a former imperial wicket, or team captain, for St. John's, smiling from the sidelines.
It was the 19th victory for St. John's in 24 years of crosstown croquet. But Navy hired a professional coach and upgraded its equipment, and two of the five midshipmen victories have come since 2001, a striking comeback after years of relentless defeat.
The mids took the field in their customary white lettermen sweaters. The Johnnies, whose uniforms change dramatically each year, elected for red T-shirts emblazoned with the symbol of communism and the letters "SJCCCP," a play on the acronym for the Soviet Union.
St. John's clinched the best-of-five series in consecutive games before a crowd estimated at 3,000. But all involved agreed that both teams had come to win, not just drink -- although there was also plenty of that.
After Coy's victory shot, someone cued the Queen song Another One Bites the Dust. But everyone knew Navy would be back.
"Can we beat them? Yeah," Spalding said. "But we're not going to hold them."