Thursday, November 13, 2008
As most of you know, I grew up in the East San Francisco Bay Area, where I still reside when I'm not away playing croquet. Sometime around 1994, my eccentric uncle started visiting each spring to play in the San Francisco Open tournament. He wore all white, and spent most of his time playing this odd game that I only knew from Alice and Wonderland. Thus was my introduction to croquet.
I started my career in croquet keeping the dead board for my Uncle Larry at those San Francisco Opens. In between games I would occasionally hit balls on the sidelines of the court, trying not to create too many divots. Eventually, I traveled with my family to visit my Uncle in Maine during the summer. He had built a nice little half-size court to play on and he started me out playing 9-wicket croquet, Claremont style. It was so painful to watch me play, that my uncle spent more than a few of my matches pacing the porch over-looking the court. Once, Larry even spent the majority of my match sitting in a tree, hiding behind the branches to cringe at my strategic choices.
After a few years of wide wickets and no carry over deadness, Larry introduced me to 6-wicket American Rules Croquet. My cousin and I entered the 1996 New England Regionals in sunny Newport, Rhode Island. In the sweltering heat, my cousin and I won our 3rd Flight doubles and took first and second in singles despite our many horrible choices and thanks to even more lucky shots. I met many wonderful players in our few years playing in Newport and as I encounter them these days I hear more and more embarrassing stories that I had repressed.
My first big success came in 1999. I had moved into the 2nd flight in the two American Rules tournaments that I played (the San Francisco Open and the New England Regionals) and I finally won our quaint 9-wicket tournament. The Claremont Croquet Classic, established in 1975, has been billed as the all Maine State 9-Wicket Championship, but is usually a mix of locals and long time visitors to Maine who play croquet once a year. The field for the tournament had weakened considerably since my Uncle stopped competing in the singles. Having won in 1996 and 1997 (nearly uncontested in the latter) and recognizing the relative lack of competition, he vowed to stay out of singles until the rest of us caught up. I had caught up.
The next 5 years resulted in a series of grudge matches between Larry and me in the Claremont finals. I managed to take the first contest, matching the best winning streak and vowing to break the record with three championships in a row. In 2001 Larry capitalized on one critical mistake and took control late in the game. I never had another chance to hit a ball. In the following years, I played more on the west coast and learned the Association Laws game and began to dominate the amateur field for the classic. Larry continued to play strong but I edged him out in 2002 and 2003, becoming the first person to have two separate back-to-back wins.
During this time Michael Quarters, Larry’s grandson, and I took hold of the doubles competition and won two championships in a row in 2001 and 2002. Sadly, Larry decided to end the dream team and break up our partnership, but Mike became a strong force in the singles half as well.
Then my chance arrived. Three years later, I had another chance at the unprecedented threepeat at the Claremont. Both Larry and I had to watch for Mike, waiting in the wings. Mike played an awesome tournament, but lost to Larry and fought to play me in the semi-final. Had it not been for Larry and I, he might have had 2 or 3 championships in a row himself. The final match came and I managed to prove that Larry was a great teacher as I won handily. I retired from singles with the threepeat and Larry decided to lay in wait once again, until the field caught up to his skill set.