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Fazio: A great day for croquet
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It doesn’t have to be about winning, scholarships, money and notoriety.

Sports is relaxing, therapeutic and – well –fun.

At least that’s what it was designed as, a way to get recreation and prepare for hunts and survival.
Nowadays, I often find myself thinking of sports as a business more than a way to run out your stresses and enjoy time with the other participants.

Saturday the Heartland Woman’s Club brought things back to the good ol’ days, hosting its annual Cherry Blossom Croquet Tournament at Oxford College. The service club, which is based in Covington, has been bringing people together for this charitable event for the past 22 years and graciously invited me to participate Saturday.
The success of the event stems almost entirely from the organizers and participants but some of the credit must go to the unbelievable weather, which spread a glimpse of spring across the Metro Atlanta area. The blue skies and vibrant greens starting to emerge from the flower beds around Oxford College set the backdrop for what was a great day of sport and recreation – the way it is supposed to be.

There were no television crews, no cameras (outside of my photographer), no reporters (nope, not me, I was undercover as a beginner croquet player), just people wanting to have fun for a cause.

The fun started shortly after 10 a.m. when the more than 50 people divided into their teams of two and picked up the mallets sitting on each of the 16 courts set up so beautifully by the Heartland Woman’s Club and tournament director Bruce Vanderbunt.

As a guest, I was paired up with Rankin Thomas, another novice croquet player. One participant who enjoyed playing commented on his yearly participation in the tournament, “Croquet is only once a year like Christmas. But it is fun to play and you know you are contributing to a good cause.”

I’ll end the anticipation now; Rankin and I didn’t fare very well in the tournament’s big picture, losing every match. Five matches, five losses. But you know what, we didn’t mind. I was there for fun and nostalgia; he was there for charity and a less competitive reprieve from his regular game of golf at Conyers’ Cherokee Run.

If you think a 0-5 mark in the tournament is bad, don’t because it could have been worse. Our first game was a shutout; we didn’t score a point. Our shots were too long, too short, too wide left, too wide right and just too numerous. The goal of the game was to hit the ball through four wickets faster than the other team. Rankin and I may have hit a lot of things - out of bounds lines, the center stake and one another’s croquet balls accidentally - but not a lot of wickets.

After a while we settled down, and the next game scored a point and took others to a tiebreaker for the loss. But, hey, it could have been worse; at least the Queen of Hearts wasn’t overseeing this croquet game.

Lunch time saw everyone going over the morning’s action, comparing notes and telling jokes. It was a great change from coaches screaming at halftime and trying to figure out which way to change your defense. While participants were eating and winning the various raffle prizes the Heartland Woman’s Club made available, Sandra and Vic Rosser won what many consider the biggest competition of the day - Best Dressed. Vic wore white linen pants, suspenders, an oversized tie and a straw hat; Sandra wore a white dress with a large-brimmed white hat. White is the traditional attire for croquet.

Thank you Rossers for bringing us back to the time when leisure was something that actually broke up work, not something we worked to do, therefore, making it a task itself.

After lunch, it was tournament time with the teams broken up in to flights of the A Bracket, B Bracket and Wine Flight. Ranking and I were in the Wine Flight, meaning we would face other less successful teams and have a chance not for our name on a trophy but for a bottle of wine (what good is an empty cup after all).

For myself (I can’t speak for the rest of Rankin’s day) it would be a dry Saturday. No wine from the tournament for us. We had a chance in the first round of the elimination tournament but lost in overtime. The other team, which from the look of it picked up its first win, moved on and the day was over.

Aric Gonter and Elena Bobbitt won the Wine Bracket, Ned and Kathy Kuntz finished second, Gobind Singh and Helen Gorden won the B Bracket with Jerry and Dominique Martin taking second, and Doug and Mo Wright were second place finishers in A Bracket with Donald and Brian Kennicott being overall champions.

But it was all handshakes and great games. Not missed opportunities but gained enjoyment.

After all, isn’t that why man first started running, throwing and catching, for a little release from it all? I’m fine with not getting a cup, a huge salary or a scholarship. I got some sun and some fun, and I helped The Heartland Woman’s Club raise money for Prevent Child Abuse Rockdale and Willing Helpers Food Ministry.