Whoever won Saturday’s croquet match at St. John’s College was going to beat Navy.
That was what Christopher B. Nelson, president of the school, told the swarms of spectators who came out to watch the 29th annual Annapolis Cup Saturday—an event that pits the two schools together in a friendly, albeit quirky, competition.
Why, you might ask?
Well, besides the Johnnies’ track record of beating the Mids 25 out of 28 times before Saturday’s big matchup, there was the Johnnies’ uniforms.
Their uniforms are a surprise always kept secret until moments before the match. This year, as the Mids showed up in their croquet whites with a big yellow “N,” the Johnnies wore uniforms almost identical to their opponents—making it hard at times to tell the two teams apart.
Blake Myers, a senior from Santa Fe, NM, and the imperial wicket (or captain) of the St. John's team had been sitting on the secret for about a year.
“I came up with this [idea for the uniforms] last year around this croquet tournament,” Myers said.
He said the place where the Mids got their sweaters recently went out of business, so he found something similar online and had them monogrammed at Star Monograms on Maryland Avenue. Myers also shaved his head just before the match.
“I know a lot of the spectators were pretty confused. I thought it was hilarious," said Midshipman 2nd class Johnny Zimmer, who played for the Mids.
While history repeated itself again with a victory for the Johnnies, Myers said going into the game, this year’s competition made him a little nervous.
“Before the match, I was pretty concerned. The Naval Academy has stepped up their practice this year. Their technique is better, their strategy is better, so I was a little worried to begin with,” said Myers. “It was more fulfilling beating the Naval Academy when they were better at playing croquet.”
Midshipman 1st class Dan Abney, imperial wicket for the academy, said he thinks next year the Mids should really give the Johnnies a run for their money.
But the game wasn’t the main attraction.
For some, it was the fashion—as many donned hats that could have fit right in among the attendees at the royal wedding.
Laura Willwerth, a student at St. John’s Graduate Institute said her attire was inspired by a “1920’s tea-parties” theme.
For some, it’s curiosity.
Charlie Stewart of Virginia Beach, VA, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy’s class of 1961, attended for the first time while he was in Annapolis for his 50th class reunion.
“The probability of finding an event like this ... is next to nil,” he said.
“It’s crazy,” said Midshipman 4th class Kerstin Ceaser, who added that a lot of people, particularly upperclassmen, seemed to be having fun.
For others, it’s the memories.
Isaac Opalinsky, a St. John’s graduate in the class of '99, played for the team his senior year—one of the years they went 5-0, won the national championship and triumphed over Ginger Cove.
Seven years ago, he proposed to his wife, Dana, at the match. On Saturday, they were there watching with their 22-month-old son, Rhodes.
“I originally came to St. John’s because I heard about croquet ... That was how I learned about the college,” he said.
People travel far and wide to attend the event. Betsy Pasley of San Antonio, TX, was there to watch her son, Clayton “Tex” Pasley, a Johnnie.
“I don’t think there’s any other event like this that I’ve ever been to,” she said.
The tradition is rumored to have started in 1982 when the commandant of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy told a Johnny that the "mids could beat them at any sport," the St. John's website states. It has continued ever since.
"I think people appreciate the David and Goliath aspect of it," said Leo Pickens, director of athletics for St. John's college, adding that the fact that "David is able to keep beating up on Goliath" makes it very interesting.
Luckily for Myers, despite his team losing the national championship, David prevailed over Goliath again this year.
“We got second place at the national tournament a couple of weeks ago and that was the end of a seven-year streak of St. John's winning every single one," Myers said. "So, if we had lost this as well, then I would have been the worst imperial wicket in seven years."
Editor's Note: This story did not publish Monday as originally promoted, because of breaking news.