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Youth and age both win at croquet

The Baltimore Sun

Croquet is a white-glove, pressed-linen kind of sport. But the two teams competing yesterday were more than just civil during the annual match-up in Annapolis.

Before the first stroke, the teams settled on the final score. A tie - 0-0.

Rain forced the tournament between St. John's College and Ginger Cove retirees, dubbed the "Generation Gap," to be canceled.

"It's the first time we've had a tie, isn't it?" said Ian Hanover, a St. John's College senior, shaking hands with Bill Krause, an 86-year-old retired chemical company manager.

The younger and more senior croquet players have been competing since 1989 as a run-up to the big croquet showdown between the Naval Academy and St. John's College each year.

"It's kind of like spring training in baseball," said Charlie Gillmarten, a St. John's senior.

The tournament was started by a Ginger Cove resident and St. John's alumnus who has since died. The retirees also host the midshipmen for lunch and croquet in the weeks before the Annapolis Cup.

"It gives them a chance to practice," said Bill Krause, the Ginger Cove team's Imperial Wicket, which is croquet parlance for the team captain.

It also gives the students, who are accustomed to dining hall food, a chance to eat with the retirees and talk with city residents they might not normally encounter. And with few croquet teams in the area, the players are always looking for competitors.

While it's not unusual for a much older player to "completely destroy" a much younger, more physically fit croquet player, Ian Hanover, the Imperial Wicket for St. John's, said the Ginger Cove players are pretty evenly matched against the students.

St. John's students have won the past five years. The retirees have a more even record with the academy, losing the past four years but winning the prior four years' worth of tournaments.

The Johnnies - as the St. John's students are known - have a more impressive record against the Mids, winning the silver cup trophy for 20 of the past 25 years.

The Annapolis Cup - both grudge match and social event - dates to the early 1980s, when a Naval Academy commandant challenged a St. John's student to find a sport that the school could defeat the academy in.

The annual croquet tournament is held on the lawn of St. John's, where alumni of both institutions and other spectators picnic on cucumber sandwiches, strawberries and champagne. Some ladies wear white gloves and carry parasols. Men often dress in linen suits and wear straw boater hats.

As part of the tradition, the St. John's students have lunch at the Naval Academy on the Friday before the croquet tournament. The Imperial Wickets from both teams address the group, but the midshipman make a point of banging their spoons and yelling to drown out the St. John's student leader.

To rile the midshipmen, the St. John's students wear costumes to emphasize the more liberated style of their college compared with the more rigid life at the academy. Last year, for example, they wore jeans and T-shirts and blared a Bruce Springsteen song as they ran onto the field.

The midshipmen wear their dress whites for the croquet tournament.

"They think we're a bunch of hippies. We think they're government goons," said Gregory Singer, a St. John's senior from Annapolis whose brother is a 2003 Naval Academy graduate.

The brothers enjoy ribbing each other, and for the croquet tournament later this month, Singer's brother is flying in from the West Coast.

A clash of backgrounds was also visible in the appearance of the players yesterday. The Ginger Cove players wore white slacks and sweaters. The students were unshaven, wore frayed khaki pants and windbreakers.

But both sides were disappointed about not getting to play. The rain seemed to get heavier as the teams posed for the traditional pictures, leaning on their mallets.

Dr. Alan Schragger, a retired dermatologist, offered to reschedule the tournament. "Remember: For us, Monday never comes," he told the students.

The students tentatively agreed to try to play Saturday.

Not all was lost yesterday. The lunch was enjoyable, said Hanover, ticking off the offerings on the lunch buffet: pecan-crusted chicken, filet mignon, mashed potatoes, wild rice studded with cranberries, an omelet bar, pie for dessert.

How does that compare with a college cafeteria's offerings? "This was way better," said Hanover.


The Annapolis Cup between the Mids and Johnnies is at 1 p.m. April 20. Information: www.stjohnscollege.edu.

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