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Croquet club swings from serious to silly.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

BROWNSVILLE - Kurt Riemer is a big guy - 6-foot-5-inches tall and 300 pounds.

He takes a big back swing - the kind that would knock your average croquet ball into the next county.

His contact with the ball makes an equally big sound - "Thuh-WHACK!"

But the ball rolls barely 2 feet, stopping at least that far from the wicket Riemer was aiming for.

That's what happens the first time you try to knock a 12-pound bowling ball through a 14-inch rebar wicket - even if your "mallet" is a 20-pound sledgehammer.

"Ugh!" Riemer grunts - as much from pain as disappointment. Though he targets the ball, his own joints appear to absorb most of the concussion, reverberating like Wile E. Coyote after smacking into a tunnel the Roadrunner just painted on a canyon wall.

Welcome to "Chain Gang Croquet," the latest novelty night sponsored by the Calapooia Croquet Club.

Members of the 4-year-old club play serious croquet Tuesday and Thursday nights through October. But they schedule an offbeat event every month to keep up the club's "fun index."

Sunday's sledgehammer fest does just that, drawing players from 8 to 80. Many sport makeshift electrical-tape convict stripes.

"How're your wrists?" jokes United Methodist minister April Hall Cutting, playing with the blunt end of a splitting mall. "Mine are shot!"

The club was started by retired Oregon State University education professor Rod Fielder, 73, a croquet lover from way back.

"Garvin Jabusch and I played croquet from 8 in the morning til 8 at night the whole summer of 1940," Fielder recalls. Jabusch, now a retired California carpenter, is planning a visit to Brownsville this fall for the club's final social event - a costume croquet tournament. Past themes have been "The Great Gatsby" and "Alice in Wonderland." This year's theme will be "The Wizard of Oz."

Fielder, who once played in a Corvallis croquet club, says the concept was perfect for Brownsville. "It was an idea just waiting to happen," he explains. "The enthusiasm and response was just incredible."

Eric and Carla Gerber offered use of their land, adjacent to the city's Pioneer Park. Volunteers tore out 30 walnut trees, leveled and engineered the 84-foot-by-100-foot court, and planted the grass that now resembles a giant putting green. Retired engineer Ray Bubak made all the club's wooden mallets. The Brownsville Chamber of Commerce sponsors the club, providing liability insurance and bookkeeping services.

While members love serious play, they have kept their vow to welcome folks of all ages and abilities - and to schedule "fun only" events.

"Our research showed that croquet groups in the Willamette Valley start with lots of members and enthusiasm, then dwindle out," Fielder explains. "It becomes so competitive that finally you're left with just three to five fiercely competitive men. A good player can almost run the court, and that's not much fun."

The club's most enthusiastic young member is Anders Van Sandt, 14, who plays competitively with the club's adults. The Central Linn freshman's only living grandparent is in Minnesota, so he relishes the interaction with older club members. "I look up to a lot of them," he said.

Club member John Mulder, who came Sunday dressed as the chain gang's sheriff, finds croquet the perfect activity for residents of this small town.

"It's a chance to get out with your friends and neighbors on a nice summer afternoon," he said.

"We're a bedroom community, which means people have chosen to live here because they like the friendliness of small town life."

For firefighter Steve Kropf, the $30 per family yearly membership fee is a bargain. He attended last night with his five children.

Son Brice, 11, was among those who discovered it wasn't that easy to swing a sledgehammer. "Oh, man!" he exclaimed in amazement. "That is pretty heavy ... Wow!"

Professional singer Roger McCracken, 38, the Calapooia Club's three-time league champion, feels his pain.

"I'm still dealing with the physics of these huge objects," McCracken says.


Byron Kropf (left), sports makeshift convict stripes as he plays "Chain Gang Croquet" with his father, Steve Kropf, on Sunday with the Calapooia Club. L a w n g a m e s
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Brownsville players add offbeat events such as the bowling ball and sledgehammer competition to their regular schedule
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 28, 2004
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