Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Wicket Good Time

In dappled shade under towering maples Saturday, a Hillside Avenue family set up a centuries-old game.

Players wore neither Victorian garb nor modern whites, but came dressed casually for a good time and a good cause.

The game was croquet and the event, now in its seventh year, benefits Midland School in North Branch. Organizer Doug Keating lent his back yard for the game, and an array of food and drink was supplied by Mike Ambicki, the general manager of Applebee’s in East Hanover. The front yard was given over to a giant water slide for the kids.

Keating said the annual event has garnered more than $20,000 for the school, which serves developmentally disabled young people between the ages of 5 and 21. Gail Russell, a Plainfield neighbor and also The Midland Foundation’s director of development, said 245 students come from 90 sending districts in 13 counties to the day school. The school also has an adult career education program, an on-site work center and five group homes in Branchburg.

Participants donated $50 to try their hand at the ancient game, which according to sports history sources is on the same family tree as golf and lawn bowling. Some sources place its origin back in the 1300s, but its modern popularity occurred in the mid-1880s. It was one of the few games where both men and women could take part, as also happened Saturday.

There are lots of rules about how to play croquet, but Saturday’s event was not about playing strictly by the book. There was, however, that bit about “poison,” once a player’s ball went through all the wickets.

“If anybody touches you or you touch anybody, they’re out of the game,” Keating said.

Bob Pisack of Hillsborough was attending for the third time, along with his wife, Lindsay.

“It’s great,” he said. “It’s a lot of friends from college – we all get together.”

Keating said the event attracts neighbors, classmates and friends. Taking a break from authoritatively advising players on strategy, he said he expected more than 30 players and more than 60 guests in all to attend.

For those who missed the event but want to add a neighborly Queen City boost to the cause, Russell may be reached at (908) 722-7210, ext. 150. Upcoming benefits include a golf outing in October and a November “Midland Goes to the Movies” event featuring an independent film and a buffet dinner.

(This writer, having been laughed off many a playing field in school, declined to pick up a mallet. When it comes to competition, I’ll stick to spelling bees.)

--Bernice Paglia


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