A tradition like no other

The 40th annual Croquet Roquet International tournament included (back L to R) Roger and Laurie Denbrook, Shirlee Gruber, Kurt Ronning, Mary Lee (with dog Stella), Jim Johnson, Patty Bearfield, Colleen Lanes and Connie Hausmann. In the front row are (L to R) Cliff McLain, Keith Gruber, John Lee, Dan Bearfield, Tom Lanes and Dave Hausmann. This year’s champion was John Lee of of Brandon, S.D. Photo by Jim Palmer

Friends have been coming together to play croquet for 40 years

While top athletes from around the world were aiming for gold medals at the Olympics in Rio, a group of friends came together in Dave and Connie Hausmann’s backyard in Glenwood with their eyes on a different prize…. the elusive trophy of the Croquet Roquet Invitational.

For consecutive 40 years, these friends have been coming together for the competitive croquet tournament, lively conversation and plenty of food and drinks.

The tournament started in 1976, when Jim Johnson, a recent graduate of Moorhead State University and newly hired teacher at Browns Valley High School, invited some of his buddies to come over to play some croquet.

“Browns Valley was the first stop in my teaching career,” said Jim Johnson, who now lives in Onamia. “Browns Valley is located on the edge of the world, and I wanted to get my friends to visit. I chose the weekend of Browns Valley Days, the third or fourth weekend in June.”

Last year’s winner, Dan Bearfield, holds the large trophy as this year’s winner, John Lee, takes a swig from the victory cup. The taste of victory this year was Crown Royal whiskey. Photo by Jim Palmer

And his buddies came.

“I’m not sure why I picked croquet, but my mother loved the game, and I played a lot in my childhood,” said Johnson.

Croquet has been one of the most popular lawn games in the United States for many years. It requires mallets, balls, wickets and stakes and a grassy yard.

“It is a game on the surface that seems very simple,” said Johnson, “but it does involve a lot of strategy and some skill,” said Jim.

The two-day tournament always starts on Saturday with preliminary matches. These preliminary matches continue on Sunday morning so that each participant plays eight matches.

“The basic format of the tourney has stayed the same,” said Jim. “Players are assigned numbers based on their finishes during preliminary rounds. After a big lunch on Sunday the six players with the lowest scores compete for the trophy and the bragging rights for a year.”

Connie Hausmann hits the ball as Mary Lee watches during this year’s event.

Competing in this year’s event were John and Mary Lee, of Brandon, S.D., Jim Johnson, of Onamia, Dave and Connie Hausmann, of Glenwood, Tom and Colleen Lanes, of Alexandria, Dan and Patty Bearfield of Galeton, Tenn., Cliff McLain, of Moorhead, Roger and Laurie Denbrook of Waconia, Keith and Shirley Gruber, of Greenfield, and Kurt Ronning, of Rapid City, S.D.

This year, the finalists were Keith, Dan, Cliff, Dave, Tom and John. There was a tie for the sixth position, so Connie and Tom battled it out in the “croq-off” for the final spot. Tom edged Connie to advance to the final. In the finals, John Lee, with a dramatic come-from-behind shot, took top honors.

The winner of the tournament gets more than bragging rights for the next year. During the first year, a small cup was awarded as the trophy. It is a little bigger now.

“Over the years the trophy grew, and grew unwieldy, and the practice of adding was discontinued,” said Jim.

The trophy now stands a few feet tall and serves as a traveling scrapbook of the memories formed over the 40 years. There is a brass plate on both sides of the trophy with the name of each winner inscribed on the plate.

Colleen Lanes, of Alexandria, hoisted the trophy in 1995, surrounded by a group of children.

The original cup at the top of the trophy serves another purpose. As part of the tradition, the winner of the tournament can pick his beverage of choice and that beverage is poured into the cup on top of the trophy. The winner drinks from the cup after his/her victory. Over the years, the cup has gotten rusty, so now a shot glass is placed in the cup for sanitary reasons.

Basic rules of the game have stayed the same over the years, but there are parts of the rulebook that have been altered over the years.

“Rules have been established which seem to address conflicts that arise every tournament,” said Jim. “Play is sometimes stopped while competitors argue about a certain nuance which took place.”

“It can get contentious now and then, but we usually get things worked out,” said Dan.

“And sometimes a rule is made by the men that the women don’t know about,” said Connie, smiling.

The play of the tournament has also evolved over the years. When they were all in their 20s, they were much more aggressive. It croquet, if you hit your ball into another ball, you have the option of hitting again or “sending” the opponents ball out of the area. During the early years of the tournament there was “much more sending” than there is today.

Dave Hausmann tallies up the scores in each division this year to see how made the final event.

A lot has happened over 40 years. Some players have come and gone. There have been a few who have left, a few who have joined, and there have been three regulars who recently passed away. Making it to every tournament was a difficult task. As weddings, funerals, and other events arose, people had to miss the weekend. Dave and Jim are the only two founding members with perfect attendance.

The crouqet tournament is the high-profile event in the weekend, but it is not the real reason the people keep coming back year after year. All participants in this year’s event agreed that getting together with friends was the real reason why they keep showing up.

“The tourney is like a family reunion – without a doubt getting together with my old friends is a highlight of the summer. Forty years is a long time, and the wonderful history we share really binds us together.”

And that bind tends to gets tighter when members go through trying times.

“My wife died this past January, and my croquet family was very supportive during those tough days,” said Jim. “We do have a love we share for each other.”

The tournament was played in Browns Valley for a few years, has been held at state parks a few years, spent about 10 years in the Miltona area and is now on a rotation among its seven active families. This year was in Glenwood, Minn., Next year it will be held in Brandon, S.D., at the home of John and Mary Lee.

Kids watch as one of the participants hits a ball under the picnic table during the tournament in 1991. The croquet courses are never the same and tend to get more challenging for the finals. Lakes, roads, sidewalks, tree roots and picnic tables often add to the challenge of the games. Contributed photo.

Dan and Patty recently moved to Tennessee, making it by far the furthest spot on the rotation. With the entire group in their 60s (range from 61 to 69), most are hoping to make that trip when their year in the rotation comes up. By that time, most or all hope to be retired so they can make the trek to Tennessee.

#40thanniversary #Croquettournament

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