Anniversary season for croquet league

Thursday August 12, 2010

NORTH BENNINGTON -- When someone brandishing a humongous hammer asks for a mulligan, it’s probably a good idea to grant one.

Not that such persuasion is necessary in the Bennington Croquet League. The 64 members who convene at the Historic Park-McCullough House every Thursday throughout the summer are polite and respectable, sharing drinks and hors d’oeuvres prior to squaring off in croquet matches stretched across the lawn.

"It’s a very friendly, relaxed atmosphere - though the games themselves are serious," said Joann Erenhouse, a former trustee at the Park-McCullough House who helped found the league two decades ago. "Nobody’s every gotten hurt playing, or even gotten mad. We don’t call each other names, and no one’s ever taken a swing at someone else."

A good thing, considering the length and heft of the regulation mallets being used by the members.

"Once people start playing and get into the game, they usually end up investing in a heavy-duty mallet," said Erenhouse, who plays on a team known as the Mallet Divas. "They’re not quite as large as a polo mallet, but they’re probably next in line."

Thursday saw the penultimate installment in the league’s 20th anniversary season, with 16 teams competing on eight "fields" of play. Those teams with four members had the advantage of having one person to keep score on a color-coded clipboard, as well as one other decided edge.

"With four people, you can have a designated drink-runner," Erenhouse said with a laugh.

The league draws serious croquet players from as far away as Londonderry, as well as beginners - like Randolyn Zinn of North Bennington - who quickly become hooked on the sport.

"I’m new to the game, but it’s a lot of fun," Zinn said.

Rather than the more casual backyard version of the game, league play is "a little more professional" according to Erenhouse.

"The more experienced players help out the new people; they’re all very kind and nurturing," Erenhouse said. "Then, they beat the pants off of them."

Each week’s action is kicked off the same way: With the ringing of an antique school bell that has been as much a part of the league’s tradition as wickets and mallets. Next week will see the final installment of competitive play, after which the league will hold its annual season-ending awards banquet.

"That’s something we’ve all been looking forward to," Erenhouse said.


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