Croquet: A Winning Tradition

April 24, 2017 | By Tim Pratt


St. John's students Mack McGowen (left) and Sean Miller play in the final match of the day at the 2017 Annapolis Cup.
St. John’s students Mack McGowen (left) and Sean Miller play in the final match of the day at the 2017 Annapolis Cup.

Long after the crowds had thinned and the front lawn of St. John’s College was soaked by rain, only the faithful remained.

Students. Alumni. Family. Friends.

All were gathered to watch the St. John’s croquet team capture the 2017 Annapolis Cup with a 3-2 win over the Naval Academy on April 22.

For many, the annual croquet match between the neighboring institutions is a rite of spring in Annapolis.

“There are a lot of Johnnies out here who really care about this,” says Hardison Wood (A98), former imperial wicket. “There are a lot of midshipmen that care about this, too.”

Wood, who was on the St. John’s team that won national croquet championships in 1997 and 1998, was one of a number of alumni who attended the event as part of the Rusty Wickets. The group of former players supported the event as a sponsor and gathered in a courtside tent where they discussed croquet and spent time catching up with fellow alumni.

The event is a great opportunity for alumni to reconnect with the college and former classmates, Wood says.

“It’s a good event for the school,” he says.

With St. John’s now holding a 28-7 record in the 35-year history of the event, victory is a familiar result to many former players.

“When you win, it’s great,” Wood says. “It’s a really good feeling.”

The McDowell family enjoys the 2017 Annapolis Cup.
The McDowell family enjoys the 2017 Annapolis Cup.

The victory theme was made clear even before the start of the match when St. John’s President Chris Nelson welcomed alumni home.

“Let’s remember what’s at stake here today,” Nelson says. “Honor, glory and bragging rights for the next twelve months.”

Several members of the Class of 1984 attended, including John Ertle, the imperial wicket at the inaugural Annapolis Cup. Now living in Ohio, Ertle has only missed a handful of matches since he graduated.

“It’s great to come back every year,” says Ertle, who rented a house for the event with fellow alumni. “We love it.”

Fellow Class of 1984 alumna Annastasia Kezar also rarely misses a match. She still plays croquet in her backyard with her family, and brings them to the event at her alma mater.

“It’s tradition; it’s fun; it’s an opportunity to see some of the best of Annapolis,” Kezar says.

Alumnus Patrick McDowell (A01) spent the day picnicking with his wife, Citlali, and their son. The McDowells are also regular attendees.

“We love the fact that it’s always a festive atmosphere,” McDowell says. “It’s great people-watching.”

While the McDowells enjoyed their food and the match, they also danced along with the music. The event featured a DJ and live music by the Naval Academy Trident Brass band.

“There’s a lot of energy here,” Michael says.

St. John's croquet team members celebrate their victory.
St. John’s croquet team members celebrate their victory.

Plenty of first-timers were on hand, too, including Vincent and Andrea Ferretti. Vincent, a dentist in the Navy, said his shipmates told him about the event and how much fun it is to attend.

“So I thought, ‘Well, we’ve got to go,’” he says.

Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides, who has attended the event for years, awarded the Annapolis Cup to St. John’s Imperial Wicket Shane Hettler at the end of the event to mark the St. John’s victory. While Pantelides says he has to remain neutral, and can’t pull for one team over the other, he always enjoys himself.

“It’s fun to come here every year,” he says. “It gets better and better. A little rainy this year, but still a good time.”