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Striking for the Gold

West River Wickets take their croquet mallets to Maryland ­Senior Olympics

Members of the West River Wickets ­Croquet Club will be competing in the ­Senior Olympics later this month in Owensville and at Ginger Cove in Annapolis.

Bill Brewer plays croquet with the dedication of a founding father.
    From his back yard, croquet rose from an excuse for a party “with lots of rum” to a championship game played by ambitious senior Olympians.
    Next week, Maryland Senior Olympics competition adds its first croquet tournament. Brewer’s team, the nationally recognized West River Wickets Croquet Club, will be there to strike for gold.
    Nostalgia brought Brewer back to croquet six decades after he learned the game near his grandmother’s house in Maine.
    After that 1999 party, competition turned serious.
    “A few of us decided that we wanted to do something more professional or skilled.”
    Brewer headed to Florida, home of the United States Croquet Association for lessons.
    The lessons took. Brewer returned home and found a professional court in the back yard of a West River neighbor.
    There play got serious. A team was born. Dedication, including four practices a week, has the West River Wickets competing month after month in national and regional tournaments along the Eastern seaboard. For the last two years, the Wickets have placed second in the National Tournament hosted by the United States Croquet Association in West Palm Beach, Florida.
    The Wickets generally play Six Wicket Croquet, the competitive version of the game. For home courts, they have their choice of grass and sand courts on the Owensville property of the late Morgan ‘Sonny’ Wayson, who did the construction himself.
    The ever-improving West River Wickets, by now joined by 28 players ranging from teens to 80s, wanted more.
    Wicket Byron Lee set his sights on the Senior Olympics. He must have been convincing. Olympic competition begins September 27 and continues through the 29th, starting daily at 10am. As these are Senior Olympics, only players over 50 can compete.
    Croquet has also flourished at Ginger Cove, the Annapolis retirement community, which boasts two artificial croquet courts.
    “They are very, very fast and very, very true,” says Rodney Calver, Wickets president.
    Statewide Olympic competition will move back and forth between Owensville’s court of natural Bermuda grass, similar to the green on golf courses, and Ginger Cove’s turf courts.
    Olympic play features the Nine Wicket version of the game, similar to the backyard game. Two teams of two players compete, with new partners rotating after each game.
    One pleasure of the old backyard game was hitting an opponent’s ball with your own. In the backyard version, you place your ball against the opponent’s ball you hit, place your foot on top of your own ball and strike it hard with your mallet, sending your opponent’s ball flying.
    The Olympic games are somewhat more civilized. A player who hits an opponent’s ball does not get to send it over the fence but instead gains two bonus hits, a considerable advantage.
    Eventually, the highest scoring player wins the gold.
    That champion could be founding father Bill Brewer.