It’s Monday morning and a group of women, all dressed in white, are standing on the croquet court in BREC’s city park, mallets in hand.
They are members of the Croquet Coquettes, a club within the Red Stick Croquet Club, and they get together once a week to get in and out of a few sticky wickets. It’s a game most haven’t played since they were kids.
“We used to play in our front yard,” said club founder Mary Nell Netterville. “I loved hitting my big brother’s ball in the street.”
She and a handful of other Coquettes rediscovered the game in and around Highlands, North Carolina.
“All the clubs in the area have croquette teams and tournaments,” said Netterville, a member of the Chicks & Sticks team at the Highlands Country Club.
Back home in Baton Rouge, she wanted to continue playing, so she invited friends to meet her at City Park for a game.
“About eight showed up, and they were all in white,” Netterville said. “I didn’t even tell them about the all-white tradition. This is about the same group.”
Weekly Melinda Collins, Mary Jo Delahaye, Inez Cancienne, Maury Hawking, Susan Kantrow, Carol Little, MaryJo Mayfield, Mary Kay McKee, Paula Murphy and new member Aong Dengler meet weekly on the grass with Netterville.
Recently, the women on the field received some practice and instruction from Red Stick Croquet Club member George Cochran before an April 6 tournament, one of several fundraising events hosted by the club and the Friends of the City Park golf course. There is also the Red Stick Soirée that evening.
The April 6 festivities kick off at 8:30 AM with the official ribbon cutting for the croquet court and the tournament kicks off at 9:00 AM. A portion of the proceeds and the soirée will be used to keep the track in top shape.
“The Red Stick Club was founded in October 1999 by Carl Jarrett. He’s in his 80s and still involved,” said Cochran, an LSU math professor who has been playing for about 20 years. “We have never had a court (that of BREC in the City Park). It’s an official tournament-quality court – the first in Baton Rouge. The only other one is in Shreveport – a man built it in his backyard. There are two public courses and two private courses in Houston and three in Jackson, Mississippi, all of which are private.
Cochran is a three-time champion of national backyard croquet, one of several types of croquet, a game that has been around since the late 1850s. Backyard croquet, also known as nine wicket croquet, is what most people remember from their childhood.
In Baton Rouge, the most popular game is six wicket, which is what the Coquettes play. There’s also golf croquet, the fastest growing version of the game and the version most often played by Red Stick men, playing every Wednesday and Saturday.
Almost anyone can play croquet. Members of the Red Stick Croquet Club range in age from 30 to 80. Some are tournament grade players, but all skill levels, including beginners, are welcome. The game also offers a great social environment.
“Twice a week in Highlands we have ‘Wine & Wickets,’” Netterville said of playing in North Carolina. “I think the average age of team members in Highlands is 75 years.”
And while everyone agrees that the game is fun, don’t believe for a minute that the Coquettes and other members of the Red Stick Croquet Club don’t take it seriously, as they often play long stretches of the day.
“The course is for croquet only — no Frisbee or golf,” Netterville said. “Eventually we’ll learn to set it up, but George is graciously helping us now.
“People who walk or jog past us will stop and watch us play. We always invite them to join us, and they do. The game is getting a huge boost.”
Roaring Red Stick Soirée
A fundraiser organized by Friends of City Park and the Red Stick Croquet Club
WHEN: Saturday, April 6, 7 p.m.
WHERE: BREC’s Baton Rouge Gallery, 1515 Dalrymple Drive
TICKETS/INFO: (225) 926-3181 or bontempstix.com/events/city-park-soiree
Follow Pam Bordelon on Twitter, @pamspartyline.