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debuts in Ohio, July 2010

by Mike Orgill and Bob Alman
photos by Gil Gonzalez and Mike Orgill
Posted October 2, 2009

Related Links
Hayes Presidential Center croquet video, from the Toledo Blade
All about SuperSize Croquet - Malletball, Toequet, & Freestyle
SuperSize Croquet Rules
Detailed info and registration, Wine, Wicket & Wheels
Mike Orgill's Croquet World article on President Hayes and the 1876 election
Fremont, Ohio, according to Google
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Website

In the first week of July 2010, climaxing with the July 4 holiday, a most unusual four-day celebration in a small town in Northwest Ohio celebrates the life and career of Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president of the United States at Spiegel Grove, site of the 25-acre Hayes Presidential Center. The croquet lawns where the Golf Croquet tournaments will be held are laid out in the sunniest part of the Grove, alongside the Hayes home. The new USCA-affiliated Hayes Croquet Club plays there every week, as volunteers work with the grounds keeper to gradually level and smooth the playing surface. Close by, memorial groves of giant oaks provide an ideal rambling course for the primary-colored soccer balls that must negotiate obstacles and changes in terrain for SuperSize Croquet, a modified form of Golf Croquet that is a staple of the club calendar. All the activity is pointed towards WINE, WICKETS & WHEELS, with a wine auction, Golf Croquet tournaments, the SuperSize Croquet National Championships, historical exhibits and presentations, a performance of the Toledo Symphony Concert Band that ends with Civil-War era cannon fire next to the croquet courts, wicket shooting contests, a car show, and (as they say) so much more. All this during a patriotic Fourth of July in an archetypical mid-American town. Here's how it all came to pass.

You might say it started way back in the 1870s, when the Democrats made a big fuss about the public money spent on a croquet set by the president who was supposed to end corruption in the Republican Party - Rutherford B. Hayes. It couldn't have been the amount - just a few dollars - so it must have been the principle of the thing: the president himself indulging in what was then the famously frivolous pastime of croquet! The publicity was unaccountably huge - possibly because the Democrats couldn't find any real dirt on the Hayes administration, so they had to go with what they had: the "croquet set scandal."

More than 5,000 people are expected to gather in Speigel Grove on July 4, 2010 - the fourth and final day of WINE, WICKETS & WHEELS - to hear a patriotic concert by the Toledo Symphony Concert Band at 2:00 PM, after the awarding of cash purses and the presentation of winners and placers in the Golf Croquet and SuperSize Croquet events.

Civil War era cannon boom at the climax of the 1812 Overture.
Or you might argue that it started sometime in the 1990s when Gail and Dave deFrance and Renee and Tom Dayringer started playing backyard croquet with a small circle of friends on summer weekends in Fremont, Ohio, not far from the spacious grounds of the Center.

The genesis could have been way back in the 1970s when Bob Alman and Mike Orgill and a small circle of friends inaugurated Guerilla Croquet as their own somewhat confrontative version of "extreme croquet," to regularly invade private or otherwise "unauthorized" lawns dressed all in white to play a game, and get away with it.

The week begins with widely publicized free Golf Croquet clinics for the public, directed by Mike Orgill (right).

Possibly, it started when Denny Ridgway sent Bob Alman an early version of his giant-size Toequet set, manufactured at the Ridgway home in Terre Haute, Indiana. Bob added heavy, professional mallets and introduced the equipment at the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach to make it a regular part of the Center's lawn programs, adapting Golf Croquet rules to the giantized game now known as SuperSize Croquet.

Alman sometimes teaches by playing real games and never patronizes students with give-aways. "Pretty often, a first-time player - usually a golfer - beats me in their first game," Alman comments, "and that's proof of real talent."

The turf, cut as short as possible without scalping, is laced with clover. The groundskeeper - supervising the gradual leveling of the croquet lawn - commented, "Every time the wind blows, the courts are over-seeded with clover."
Perhaps the pivotal event was the week-long visit to Fremont in 1998 of Dr. David Drazin, British historian and scholar, for intensive research of the materials in the Rendell Rhoades Croquet Collection - one of the largest repositories of croquet documents and artifacts in North America, with essential clues to croquet's development in America. Drazin commented to Becky Hill, the librarian, that it was a shame croquet was no longer played on the broad, shaded lawns of Spiegel Grove, as it surely had been in the 19th Century when Hayes and his wife Lucy and family had lived there.

There's no doubt that a crucial connection was made when Alman sent his old friend and co-croqueter Mike Orgill a photocopy of the proceedings of the Chicago Croquet Convention of 1876 supplied to him by Dr. Drazin, urging Mike to write an article about 19th Century croquet in America because there is so little published research and writing on the subject.

Green shoots for the wicket in one of the three sizeable groves on the Center grounds ideally suited to the rambling, golf-like SuperSize croquet course.

This diagram shows the free-form style of a small SuperSize course, with only nine wickets, played clockwise until one side reaches the requisite number for the win. Each course is uniquely "designed" to incorporate interesting obstacles and changes in terrain, in the spirit of Extreme Croquet.
But none of it would have come to anything if Mike Orgill had not been driving cross-country on nearby Interstate 90 amidst vast fields of corn and soybeans a couple of summers ago and saw a sign that reminded him of the Hayes connection to croquet. On impulse he took the turnoff to the Hayes Presidential Center and followed the directions a few miles south to the 25-acre Center in the heart of Fremont. Mike met some of the staff and saw part of the collection, and sparks started to fly. Mike went one step further than Drazin and imagined a big event on these historic grounds that included croquet, reflecting the status of the library as a major repository of historical materials on the game at the time it was at its peak in America.

Soon after that, Mike called Bob and brought him up to date, and Bob and Mike started talking about what they could do to help the event happen, what other connections were needed. They were confident that between them, they constituted a good team to promote an event at the Hayes Center, with their combined experience as event managers and organizers, and their relationships with virtually every prominent figure in the croquet world.

One of the players from local sponsor Crown Battery sets up for a long kick. The SuperSize National Championship is played freestyle - with players choosing whether to kick or mallet a particular shot. Typically, freestyle competitors prefer to kick the long shots that require more power.
Bob thought there would need to be a club at the Presidential Center, so there could be club members to support the croquet aspect of the fundraiser. If it were a USCA club, Don Oakley of could probably adapt for the Hayes club the rent-to-buy equipment policy he had proposed to the USCA, and the new club wouldn't have to make a big investment up front, paying their own way instead of being a drain on the Center's finances.

Also, Bob said, Oakley Woods - as the current manufacturer and principal merchandiser of SuperSize croquet equipment - would probably be a sponsor and provide all the equipment needed for the SuperSize Croquet National Championship they had been wanting to find a time and place to do. The vast shaded lawns of Spiegel Grove were tailor-made for the SuperSize game.

Mike included all these threads in his next talk with Kathy Boukissen, the Center's Development Director, who was immediately encouraging, inviting Mike for a second visit to Fremont, where he could then pitch a more fully-fleshed-out tournament idea to the staff.

The croquet club stores its equipment in the basement of the historic Hayes mansion - one of the few areas of the Victorian closed to visitors in the daily tours of Speigel Grove.

Bob and Mike decided the one thing they could do to move the project along was to write a CROQUET WORLD article about President Hayes, his Fremont home, and the presidential museum and library and croquet collection - which Mike did, straightaway.

A luxury car show adjacent to the Hayes Mansion is a highlight of July 3, the third day of croquet competition, ending at the quarterfinal level.

In the fullness of time - and the time is somewhere around December of 2008 - Kathy Boukissen set up a date for Mike and Bob to be included in a conference call with a new committee formed for the express purpose of exploring the idea of a big fundraiser that would include croquet. The call went well. Kathy would later tell Mike and Bob, "You should have seen the eye rolls around that table on the conference call, when you said we should have a croquet club!"

Kathy Boukissen, Director of Development for the Hayes Presidential Center, is half a winning tournament team, with husband Bob.

But Gail deFrance was on that call and already a member of the "croquet committee." She and Renee made sure the new USCA club was born in April 2009. The major fundraiser was dubbed WINE, WICKETS & WHEELS - and a deal was struck: Mike and Bob would make a week-long working visit around the July 4 holiday in 2009, to help build the new club and to produce a kind of "dry run" of all the events planned for the debut of WINE, WICKETS & WHEELS in 2010.

The rest is not yet history, but the foundations of a supersized fund-raiser for the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center are laid, and with any luck at all, it will become an annual feature of the Center's calendar around each July 4th holiday, bringing even more visitors to Fremont and northern Ohio, where the 19th president's home, museum, library, and the historic grounds of Spiegel Grove are already a major magnet for visitors.


Driving through rural Ohio just south of Lake Erie on Interstate 90 in late 2007 I saw a sign – “Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, 4 Miles.” The sign summoned up a memory. This place had something to do with croquet; I had read an article about it somewhere, probably on I had already driven hundreds of miles that day and took the exit on impulse. Perhaps I'd find an hour's diversion.

Visitors get an overview of the grounds from this large sign showing all the entrances, the popular paths for strollers and runnings, and the buildings on the 25-acre Center.

The Hayes Center proved to be a 25-acre triangle of tree-covered lawns surrounded by a neighborhood of Victorian houses. The lovely autumn morning put me in the mood for some historical recreation, so I took a tour of the lovingly restored Hayes mansion, a three-story nineteenth century house filled with the original furniture and memorabilia of the Hayes family. After that came a stroll through the Hayes museum, which was hosting a special exhibit of nineteenth century political cartoons along with its permanent exhibits featuring historical artifacts of the Hayes administration and other items owned by Hayes and his family.

President Hayes was given the original White House gates when he left the presidency during a renovation, and he installed them at all the entrances to the Hayes Presidential Center.
It turned out that Rutherford was quite the pack rat and had saved almost everything he thought significant in his life, including the bullet-holed general's tunic he was wearing for the Union in the Civil War. Hayes was wounded four times and emerged from that war without a single amputation. Memories of high school history class flooded back as I studied exhibits explaining the disputed Hayes-Tilden election of 1876. Shades of Bush v Gore!

This original entrance to the Library and Museum is seldom used, as the building is now only a small part of the expanded facility.

I kept my eyes peeled for croquet equipment, art work, anything. But there was nothing croquet-like in the house, museum or grounds, and the road beckoned. Just as I was leaving I asked the receptionist in the bookstore, "Is there anything here about croquet?" She raised a finger telling me to wait, picked up the phone and spoke into it, "One for the library." Pointing to a door I hadn't noticed in the corner of the room she said, "It's up the stairs."

This portrait of Rutherford B. Hayes hangs in the foyer.
And so I entered the portal to the Hayes Library, a rich collection housing the complete records of the Rutherford B. Hayes administration (1877-1881), extensive documentation of Hayes and his family, a treasure trove of Gilded Age historical material, a major genealogical research collection and . . .

The largest collection of croquet books and croquet-related documents and artifacts in the United States!

The librarian handed me a thick book. It was David Drazin's monumental Croquet: A Bibliography. "A lot of this is down in the stacks," he told me. He also showed me pamphlets detailing the croquet controversy that erupted during Hayes's tenure in the White House. Rutherford had purchased some pricey croquet balls; the Democrats used this as a pretext for an attack on the supposed elitism and waste of the Republicans.

I must have looked pretty excited. "He's hyperventilating," the librarian remarked to a colleague.

He led me down into the stacks and showed me the collection. Rendall Rhoades, an Ohio professor with a passion for croquet, had collected this material for decades. His wife, aware of the Hayes croquet connection, had donated it to the Hayes Presidential Center. “You're the second person to look at this in the last six or seven years,” he told me. He was referring to David Drazin.

I saw row upon row of croquet books, including Lord Tollemache's Croquet in mint condition (1914) with the original dust jacket and with all the separate color court diagrams and an unopened envelope of court markers. I saw novels and other books with croquet themes, and rule books and tournament brochures published by croquet associations. There were boxes upon boxes of uncatalogued croquet materials. Glancing through one I came across a copy of Tom McDonnell's original Northern California croquet newsletter (1983), including a tournament report with my name in the standings. There was even an extensive collection of tabletop croquet sets. I was dizzy with it all.

But the road still beckoned and I had to be on my way. I had cleaned out personal items from my mother's house on Long Island and happened to have in my car's trunk the four-year inaugural run of Garth Eliassen's Croquet Calendar, along with all the issues of Croquet Magazine, a slick black-and-white magazine Bob Alman, Hans Peterson and I had published in the late 1980s. I donated them to the Hayes Library, then snapped a picture of the librarian, Merv Hall, holding up a copy of the magazines in each hand as he stood in the library reading room. And that, I thought, was that. An interesting episode on a transcontinental drive and nothing more.

Back in California thoughts of the Hayes Center kept nagging at me: images of the tree-shaded lawns, the picturesque Hayes home, the all-American town surrounding the Center, and above all, the croquet collection and the Hayes connection to croquet.

What a perfect place for a croquet tournament!

You can dream, but dreams evaporate without action. I emailed Kathy Boukissen, the Hayes development director, proposing my idea. I didn't expect anything more than silence. But Kathy liked the idea. Plans started unfolding. The incredible energy of the Hayes Presidential Center staff and the supportive Fremont community eventually created WINE, WICKETS AND WHEELS, a major fundraiser at the Center wrapped around the Golf Croquet and SuperSize Croquet championships.

Since my first visit I've been back to Fremont twice. In late 2008, my wife Helen and I met with the staff and made initial plans. We surveyed the lawns and determined proper placement and dimensions to set them up for croquet. This past Fourth of July, Bob Alman and I spent a week in Fremont consulting with the staff, conducting golf croquet clinics and events and SuperSize croquet games for the club and the visiting public.

The Hayes Center, as we suspected, is a perfect venue for SuperSize croquet.

We supervised the first croquet tournaments of the newly formed, USCA-sanctioned, Hayes Croquet Club, now more than 40 players strong. Area media gave our events front-page coverage and community interest was strong.

Along the way, Bob and I got to immerse ourselves in the life of the town. Early on, we learned not to wear whites downtown, because it would call attention to our celebrity status as "the croquet men." Tom Hoffert, a Center volunteer, gave us an extensive tour of the area - the same kind of tour to be incorporated in WINE, WICKETS & WHEELS. Among the many local distinctions: the largest ketchup factory on the continent, on the outskirts of town. If you're not a purist, you can put ketchup on your Walleye - a local fish favorite we had for lunch at a picturesque restaurant on the banks of the Sandusky River flowing through the middle of town.

President Hayes, his horse, his wife Lucy, and his son Webb are all buried on the site.
On the Center's grounds I saw the grave sites of Hayes, his wife Lucy, his son Webb (the Center's founder), and Rutherford's horse. Webb Hayes won the Congressional Medal of Honor as a Rough Rider and headed up Union Carbide. The Center's iron gates are the original gates of the White House.

We capped off our croquet week in Fremont listening to a patriotic Fourth of July concert by the Toledo Symphony Concert Band on the Center grounds along with three thousand other visitors. The band performed on a temporary apron attached to the large porch of the Hayes house, adjacent to the croquet courts. Cannons roared at the end of the 1812 overture. You can see my video on YouTube. Or watch the band perform "America the Beautiful" during the Fourth of July Concert.

I can't wait to go back for WINE, WICKETS & WHEELS with my croquet buds over the next July 4th holidays.

- Mike Orgill


The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center and the Hayes Croquet Club are hosting two croquet tournaments from July 1 – 4, 2010 as part of their new fundraising event, WINE, WICKETS & WHEELS.

Inaugural croquet tournaments at the Hayes Presidential Center!

The Hayes Golf Croquet Championships

  • Open to 16 "pros." "Pros" are USCA members familiar with Golf Croquet Federation Golf Croquet lawns, with competitive golf croquet experience.
  • Open to 16 "amateurs." "Amateurs" are members of the Hayes CC and local Fremont residents.
  • "Pros" compete for a $1000 purse.
  • "Pro" tournament includes...
    • Cash purse and trophies
    • Lunches and courtside refreshments
    • Hayes Presidential Center tours and interactive lectures
    • Hosted tours of Fremont area
    • Opening cocktail party (Wednesday night)
    • Wine auction and Finals Dinner
    • Car show entry and concessions
    • Toledo Symphony 4th of July concert
    • Accommodations discounts
  • "Am" fee includes everything itemized above except cash purse, wine auction and finals dinner.
  • Fee for Non-playing Participant guests of "Pro" players includes everything itemized above except tournament entry.

$275 tournament fee for "Pros"
$125 tournament fee for "Ams"
$175 guest fee for Non-playing Participants

World's first!

SuperSize Croquet National Championships

  • Open to everyone, including first-time players.
  • Includes full day of optional practice play and instruction (Thursday).
  • At least two full days of competition, followed by semifinals and finals on last day.
  • Non-qualifiers for final championship rounds continue playing to establish final ranked order of finish in both singles and doubles.
  • Trophies awarded in both singles and doubles.
  • Four lunches and courtside refreshments.
  • Hayes Presidential Center tours and interactive lectures.
  • Hosted tours of Fremont area.
  • Entry to car show and concessions.
  • Accommodations discounts.
  • Toledo Symphony 4th of July concert.

$25.00 Playing fee;
$25 for lunches and snacks, Friday, Saturday, & Sunday (optional);
$15 for Opening Cocktail Party on Wednesday night (optional).

You can download the pdf REGISTRATION FORMS here. Or contact the tournament directors directly by email for registration packets or more information.

Mike Orgill 707-585-7819, 707-547-7146, cell
Bob Alman 561-833-3179
Don Oakley 866-364-8895

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