As Krause looks on, Savage wends her way across the course, thwacking ball after ball through wicket after wicket, each time sending his ahead for her further personal use.

"She's the best player here," he says.


As the others take their turns, the conversation is as courtly as the play is, at times, unforgiving.

Carol Gomoljak, 85, rolls a 30-footer right through one wicket and laughs out loud. Later, Boulier, a relative newbie, leaves a ball halfway through another.

When players, even rookies, fail to get a clean wicket, they're given no credit.

"If you make exceptions, you end up arguing about every play," Stevens says.

DeLong taps her ball into that of Bruce Beckner, 87, but doesn't know what to do next. She asks his partner, Oberholtzer.

"Don't help her. She's on the other team," Beckner says.

Players stay quiet as others address their shots, but during down moments, they want to talk croquet, discussing the differences between indoor and outdoor play (carpet is speedier than grass), the ballroom's wickets (a welder adapted an outdoor set with weighted plates), the game's social benefits (Krause met his second wife, Nancy Morgan, at a practice).

They address the micro and the macro, from mallet options they mull when buying (carbon handles, lead-weighted heads, gold nameplates) to a tournament at the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., that 22 players from the Wickets and Ginger Cove will attend March 12-18.

"Part of the fun is getting to know players from around the country, seeing them every year, and hosting them at your place when the time comes," Stevens says.

The two clubs will also co-host the first-ever croquet competition in the Maryland Senior Olympics Sept. 26 and 27.

Once Savage's tear through the court finally ends, Krause regroups and manages a run of his own, progressing to the fourth wicket. The players' teams have made 10 wickets each as the clock runs out.

"A tie — a perfect way to end the day," Savage proclaims before hugging Krause around the neck, and she and Stevens wrap up to head out into the chill.

It's not Major League Baseball or the NFL, but It's the game they love best, and they plan to keep on playing.

"See you in Florida," Savage says.

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