Hartford Advocate - October 2004
The more hills, rocks and tree stumps the better, for afficionados of extreme croquet
by Joe Miksch - October 7, 2004
Croquet. The sport of the well-heeled and idle. Particularly the well-heeled and idle with access to uncommonly flat and well-manicured lawns.
Extreme croquet. The sport of anyone with a penchant for following his croquet ball to the terminus of a sheer cliff, of anyone who thinks it -- if not reasonable -- a hell of a lot of fun to use a specially designed wedge mallet to propel that aforementioned croquet ball back up to that cliff's apex, of anyone who enjoys tromping over hill and dale on a winter's weekend, or the special kind of person who honestly thinks it swell for a stream to be in play on a croquet court. In short, any nut.
Specifically, a 56-year-old nut from West Hartford named Bob Warseck. "We started playing in the backyard, putting wickets in weird places and then decided it was too small so we went out to one of the parks and played in the playgrounds or whatever," Warseck explained. "And then it just went farther and farther." Yes, it did.
"Somebody checked out a state park in Middletown and found this really nice rocky ledge where we could really bust equipment. And then we just worked our way up, kept our eyes peeled for cool new places to play. The more hills, rocks and tree stumps the better," concluded Warseck, who is a self-employed headhunter for the research, statistics and survey science industries when he's not doing stuff with wickets, mallets etc. Traditional wooden croquet mallets, as one might expect given Warseck's description of extreme croquet terrain, are simply not designed to suit the needs of players with a penchant for living on the edge.
"Yeah, they don't last," Warseck said. "First off, the handles break because they're just little half-inch pine posts or something. Whereas the ones we have now are inch-and-a-quarter ash, flexible hardwood." That's heavy duty enough for flat-ish situations. But what's a person to do if he or she needs a little loft to get the ball over or around an obstacle?
"As we got deeper into the woods, playing in the rocky fields and so forth we realized we had to get them up in the air and I, myself, had the brainstorm of trying to cut a wedge into a wooden mallet," Warseck said. "The first one was made out of a piece of oak banister."
Then came experiments with harder woods, fiberglass stripping and aluminum. Eventually, the extreme croqueters, with the aid of a machinist, devised a durable wedge mallet made of a nylon composite. That worked fine, until cold conditions made it brittle and prone to cracking and chipping.
"Now we use a polycarbonate, which is bulletproof," Warseck said. Problem solved.
The invention of extreme croquet cannot be assigned to a particular fertile mind. Warseck said that over the course of his 20 years in extreme croquet, he's heard from people in Minnesota, Colorado and elsewhere who've played a similar game for about the same period of time.
"People will see the story in the Smithsonian [magazine] about us and say, 'Oh, wow, that's really cool. We've been doing this for 10 years and we didn't even know it'," Warseck said.
For Warseck, extreme croquet was born thusly: A group of chums, including Warseck, of course, was having a New Year's Eve party in 1984. Snow was on the ground. All was beautiful, still, quiet. Then, shortly after midnight, "We decided, we were all pretty much gone, that we were going to go out and play some croquet, which we had been kind of doing from time to time in the summer." But what about the snow, Bob?
"We shoveled the snow into piles and put a candle on top of each one and then played between the piles. It got foggy, too. The air was sort of glowing from the candles and it was pretty eerie. It worked out really well," Warseck said. Then, the Connecticut Extreme Croquet society was created and since that auspicious beginning, a handful of six or so dedicated extreme croqueters has served as the core of the organization with about 20 more floating in and out as time, and willingness to trudge through the woods in search of croquet balls, permits.
Believe it or not, all this, including the taunting that is part of every extreme croquet match -- "We believe very strongly in psychological abuse," Warseck said -- is quite a lot of fun. "Oh, it's a gas," Warseck said. "We all bring a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine or whatever and some munchies and run around for four or five hours and come back totally and completely worn out and beat and sore."
Originally published in the Hartford Advocate - October 2004
Article Copyright © Joe Miksch