Croquet Adventure in San Diego

by Steve Fluder · 12/14/2007

Pro-Am Division winners former NFL player Craig McEwen (l) and Pro Art Parsells

October 2006 was a big month for croquet in the United States, and not just for the tournament 6-wicket game. One of the largest USCA sanctioned 9-wicket croquet events ever held took place in Balboa Park in the beautiful city of San Diego. The event was sponsored by Community Options, a non-profit organization that provides employment and independent living services to individuals with disabilities and economically-disadvantaged seniors. Community Options teamed up with Steve Fluder of Croquet Your Way, an organization specializing in producing and running 9-wicket croquet events for of fund-, friend-, and awareness-raising. Community Options sought a unique special event as an alternative to golf and other commonplace activities. Their effort resulted in a two day Croquet extravaganza—the Croquet Adventure: Safari. The safari-themed weekend began with a spectacular Safari Serenade Gala on Friday, October 13, at the Hilton Harbor Island.

The Gala kick-off event got underway with cocktails and a very successful silent auction before a delicious dinner. A fantastic video followed, portraying the role and mission of Community Options as it serves individuals with disabilities in five California counties: San Diego, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Alameda. Awards and dancing followed this moving and inspirational presentation.

The tournament followed on Saturday, October 14th. The 16-court layout was something to behold, spanning close to a fifth of a mile end to end. The venue in gorgeous West Balboa Park bordered San Diego’s 6th Avenue and gave the tournament high visibility. The court surfaces were challenging and unpredictable, just the way 9 Wicket Croquet is meant to be played. Three divisions played for purses and prizes. The Pro-Am and All-Comers divisions played three teams of two per court while the Youth division was a singles format.

Adult divisions elimination play commenced at 8:00 AM and continued into the afternoon when the top three teams in each were chosen to go on to the final rounds. The Pro-Am featured many experienced USCA 6 Wicket players as pros while their celebrity/amateur partners included many well-known names, notably retired NFL players Ben Davidson and Craig McEwen. It was these two players and their pro partners Doug Moore and Art Parsells respectively that made the finals along with Joe Morris and Commander John Shultz (of the USS McClusky). In the end it was Art and Craig winning in a closely contested match for the purse of $2,500. The win was especially gratifying to Art, who did not make the finals in York, PA two weeks previously.

The All-Comers division featured anyone not considered a championship 6 Wicket player. This division had proficient players doing battle to make the finals. The final three teams, in order of final standing, were the “Ocean Beach Croquet Association” (Rick Bollinger & Jeff Evenson), “Crabby Lobsters” (Peter Oleson and Jean Fernald), and Gary McEarl and his partner, Tim Rush. Of special interest was the Crabby Lobster team, registering separately, each seeking a play partner. With Peter from Maryland and Jean from Maine, the resulting team name emerged.

The Youth Division, played in the afternoon, was a really special and important component of the event. In this case it was an individual event with Lucas Collins coming out the winner. His dad Dave, a pro player in the Pro-Am, was a very proud father that day.

The weather for the tournament had a little of everything with rare rain in the morning and then clearing in the afternoon. No one was deterred however and a good time was had by all. Special thanks to Community Options’ President Nancy Batterman, and Carrie Leising, Development Officer, for their tremendous hard work along with several dozen volunteers to make this event a success. Plans for the 2007 edition already underway. Watch the Community Options Website for details. And check Croquet Your Way for news and standings.