Something exciting was happening on the croquet field. After all, onlookers weren't about to set aside their champagne glasses and cucumber sandwiches for just any shot.
It was nearing the end of the 3 1/2-hour match. Midshipman Steve Jennings had the chance to knock his St. John's College opponent's ball out of play and set up his partnerfor the win. He succeeded, but his coach was still nervous.
"It's not over yet," said Chaplain Vince Carroll. "This guy can do some super shooting. All we do is have to hit the peg.
With the next shot, Midshipman Gregory Vergamini calmed his coach's fears and brought honor to the U.S. Naval Academy, which, for the first time infour years, won the annual grudge match between the neighboring schools. And the Mids did it in convincing fashion, sweeping the first three matches in the best-of-five series.
"It was intense," said Pappas Panayiotis, a St. John's sophomore and native of Limenaria Thassos, Greece. "There was a lot of back and forth."
Several hundred people, who had spent the afternoon eating, drinking, dancing and socializing, enthusiastically applauded the Naval Academy victory. St. John's still leads the series, which started in 1983, 6-3.
The competition was started by a group of beer-drinking midshipmen and St. John's college students at the Little Campus Inn.St. John's has no intercollegiate sports; the croquet match is the only time the two campusesget together.
It's serious business, these matches, attracting national media attention. A two-page article on the games in this month's GQ magazine made it around the field, and CBS-TV's evening news was on hand to record the on- and off-field activities.
The midshipmen were decked out in white shirts, red bow ties and white pants. Some of their counterparts, known as "Johnnies," wore what might be bestdescribed as Army surplus -- shorts, military spats, eclectic T-shirts.
Fans, friends and the curious brought polite picnic spreads ofcocktails, finger sandwiches, strawberries and cream, and imported beer -- served in a glass, of course.
Big Band, jazz and swing tunes wafted over the match, and some spectators danced.
Most didn't have a clue what they were watching -- not that it mattered.
The object of croquet, once the game of French royalty, is to whack wooden balls through a course of nine wire wickets while taking every opportunity to knock an opponent's ball into the nextcounty.
A single match can last hours and involve many on-field conferences and rule-book consulting.
Last year, the Mids fell victim to the grapes of wrath. This year, they kept alcohol consumption to a minimum, forgoing achampagne celebration until victory was theirs.
"This was a majorstrategy match," Vergamini said. "There is a lot more thinking than I everimagined. In backyard croquet, you just go out and hit the ball. The best shooter wins. Here, it is all strategy."
By 3:30 p.m. -- 2 1/2 hours after the start -- the Naval Academy was up 2-0. All eyes focused on the last match to finish, the first to start.
Some crisp shots by both sides had the crowd up and cheering. Finally, the Naval Academy players were able to put it away.
"It's nice to win," Vergamini said. "It's hard to lose as many times as we have."