Johnnies Celebrate the 40th Annapolis Cup with a Big Win—and a New Documentary

June 7, 2024 | By Kirstin Fawcett

Croquet 2024 was one for the books—and now, a new documentary short by alum and filmmaker Jeremy Sheeler’s (AGI18) Awarehouse Productions allows Johnnies to relive the tradition’s history. 

Johnnies hold the Annapolis Cup aloft following their 2024 croquet victory against the Naval Academy.

Filmed by Sheeler at April’s 40th Annapolis Cup, the piece features conversations with John Ertle (A84), who served as imperial wicket at the inaugural game in 1983, as well as Kevin Heyburn (A86), who unwittingly initiated the annual match in response to a boast that the midshipmen could beat the Johnnies at any sport. These foundational figures appear alongside alums like former imperial wicket Mia Kobylski (A23) and an assortment of undergraduates and Rusty Wickets (i.e., alumni who are former players) reflecting on why such a quirky sport encapsulates the ethos of St. John’s College.

As Sheeler conducted on-camera interviews during the April 2024 Annapolis Cup, a historic game against the United States Naval Academy was unfolding in real time—not to mention record time. Led by imperial wickets Angus Preston (A26) and Magnus Oberg (A25), the Johnnies secured victory around 3 p.m. Tipping St. John’s winning streak to 32-8, the game was the second shortest Annapolis Cup on record, outdone only by 2010’s speedy win orchestrated by imperial wicket Cameron Coates (A10), according to calculations conducted by unofficial croquet historian and former imperial wicket Micah Beck (A09).

“After losing the match on Court 1 in under an hour, I knew we had the Middies right where we wanted them,” says St. John’s Athletic Coordinator Rachel Fleming (A11). “The pre-match strategy developed by Oberg and Preston to lull the Middies into a false sense of security played out to a T.”

Strategy played a part in the Johnnies’ overall win, but Preston—who says he chose to attend St. John’s Annapolis campus over Santa Fe due in part to its ongoing croquet tradition—chalks up his team’s success to their logging countless courtside hours in the weeks building up to the 40th anniversary match.

“Magnus and I are regularly out there every day before the Annapolis Cup,” he says. “We encourage other people to come out also, even not just during practice. I think a lot of people really stepped up and made sure that their skills were great.”

Plus, he adds, “We figure we probably have more fun playing croquet than the Navy does,” which alleviates pressure to win and allows them to instead focus on teamwork and technique. “We’re friends even outside the team.”

For some players, the Annapolis Cup was just a warmup: shortly after the historic 40th match, Preston and Oberg went on to lead the Johnnies at the United States Croquet Association’s Collegiate National Championship in Haverford, Pennsylvania, where the team competed against students hailing from not just the Naval Academy but Texas A&M University and Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

According to Beck, who helps run the event, Nationals is technically “two different college national tournaments.” “There is what’s called ‘American Six Wicket rules,’ which is essentially the same game that gets played on front campus during the Annapolis Ccup and which St. John’s tends to clean up in because no other schools, besides us and the Naval Academy, really play it. The other version that gets played is called golf croquet, which happens at a different kind of speed; everybody has only one shot per turn, for example. That has always been the game that most other schools play.”

To their credit, the Johnnies competed in—and won—both American and golf croquet this past spring. But even if they hadn’t, Preston says their participation at Nationals would have been well worth it.

“It’s a really great time,” he says. “It’s good to meet new people who also love the weird, niche sport that we do”—even when the impetus for playing isn’t due to a cross-town college rivalry that stems all the way back to 1983.

Watch Sheeler's croquet documentary on the St. John's College YouTube Channel.

The 40th Annapolis Cup was presented by PNC.