Tribune Review - June 11, 2003
More Pittsburghers should take up croquet
By Ellen James
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
The idea was innocent enough.
The day started as just a few close friends enjoying a national holiday. We were having a cookout in Schenley Park followed by a group sport that wouldn't require too much physical exertion. It was a toss-up between kickball and croquet, and seeing how we forgot our ball, we settled on croquet.
Six of us trotted confidently onto our makeshift course, put the wickets in the ground and took a few practice swings while imagining ourselves the reincarnation of "The Great Gatsby" set.
Fast forward two hours later, friendships were in tatters, tempers were rising and I was ready to break my mallet over the head of the guy who ruthlessly sent my yellow ball soaring into the brush.
The game of croquet might invoke images of the upper crust playing on manicured lawns and wearing spotless white outfits, but that is far from the truth. This a game for cutthroats who thrive on wielding a mallet and whacking on the balls of their opponents.
But sadly, the popularity of this game has waned. No longer do readers see editorials like one that ran in a New York newspaper in 1867 that read: "Never in the history of outdoor sports in this country had any game achieved so sudden a popularity with both sexes, but especially with the ladies, as Croquet has."
However, I think the game should have a renaissance in Pittsburgh. We love sports -- all sports -- from our pro teams to intermural kickball.
So it is time to make room for croquet in the crowded field of Pittsburgh sports. But when I pitch this idea while lobbying for a bigger stadium for my croquet franchise, I keep hearing that the game is too dull for spectators. But to those naysayers, I point them to Connecticut's own "Extreme Croquet Society."
Extreme croquet is when, in exchange for the manicured lawns, the game heads to the hills. These thrill seekers wield custom-made mallets that resemble sledge hammers while playing in the deep woods, fields, drainage basins or back yards littered with sprinklers and lawn furniture.
"The rules are so much more competitive, but that doesn't mean you can't have a Heineken in one hand and a cigar in other," said Bob Warseck, one of the original founders for the West Hartford-based group. "We play it where it lies, so when the ball rolls into the creek, that's what it is all about."
The 40-some club members play in all seasons and conditions while making sure the wickets are put on the most challenging areas of the field.
"When you have two broken-down tree stumps with a rock in front of them, it just screams for the wicket," Warseck said.
Ellen James is a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. She can be reached at
or (412) 320-7997.
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