ELLSWORTH — Woodlawn’s croquet field played host on July 20 to a group of Special Olympics athletes, who came out for a two-hour lesson from the pros.
The five athletes came as part of Momentum Inc., an organization based in Bangor that provides services for adults with intellectual disabilities. Every year they train athletes for the Special Olympics in June. In the offseason, staff organize daily activities based on the interests of the athletes involved in the program.
“The activities are completely participant-driven and goal-driven,” explained Lexi MacInnis, a program administrator with Momentum. “The athletes love to participate in other outdoor activities.”
While croquet is not currently a part of the Special Olympics roster of events, at least not in Maine, one of the athletes had expressed interest in learning the game.
“I wanted to learn more about it because it’s something that my mother used to play in the backyard,” said Jessica.
Another staffer at Momentum, Carl Crawford, knew of the croquet court at Woodlawn, the only tournament-sized court in the state, after planning previous activities that took advantage of the hiking trails on the grounds. So, he placed a call to the museum and solidified the plans.
“We like to organize events that get our members out and involved in the community,” Crawford explained. “We could put together activities for them at our facility, or they could take an online class, but it’s much better to have them meet new people and experience new places and new things. And if this is something that they all enjoy, we’ll try to make it a regular event.”
Charles Alexander, Tim McCormick and Bob VanTassell, who play croquet on the grounds every Monday, first taught the athletes some of the fundamentals of the sport, such as proper grip technique for the mallets. Afterwards, they launched a round of “golf croquet,” the rules of which are a bit different from the six-wicket game that is played at the highest level.
“Croquet is like chess on a billiard table,” explained Alexander, who is also a member of the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, Woodlawn’s governing board. “The swing technique is the most important thing to get down, though, and that’s what we started with.”
The pros walked the group through the rules and helped them out with suggestions on where to aim their shots. They also gave them pieces of advice, like the fact that pulling the club back 3 inches in their swing will generally push the ball 3 feet forward.
“It’s definitely not as easy as it looks,” MacInnis said.
“But it is fun to knock people out of the way,” said Dale, one of the athletes who found that he had a penchant for powering opponents’ croquet balls away from the wicket.
Based on the skills displayed, don’t be surprised if croquet makes its way onto the list of events for next year’s games.