St. Mary's College of Maryland is making an offer that sounds hard to refuse. Give back the college's Governor's Cup trophy and get $1,000, no questions asked.
And one other thing. St. Mary's would like it back before Aug. 6, when the college's 31st annual Governor's Cup Yacht Race takes off from Annapolis, headed for St. Mary's and the finish line the next day.
"The college desperately wants to find this missing piece of the Governor's Cup's history," Torre M. Meringolo, vice president for the college's office of development, said in a statement.
The race has all the trappings of a big event -- with the exception of a big trophy. It's an overnight race, one of only a few. It draws many boats; 160 participated last year.
The cup disappeared from the school's gymnasium nearly 20 years ago and wasn't replaced. When the cup was where it was supposed to be, the race winner's name was carved in its side. Winners now get a silver dish.
Amateur detectives should note this description from college officials: The trophy has three tiers, is adorned with four winged horses and a pitcher, and weighs nearly 30 pounds, fashioned as it is of plywood and tarnished metal.
St. Mary's, which is planning a new $4.5 million boathouse, would be delighted to enshrine the trophy there some day.
"We'd love to get it back, but we don't have real high hopes," said Marc L. Apter, a school spokesman.
The trophy was kept behind a desk at the school's gymnasium under minimum security, St. Mary's officials said, so they are unsure exactly when it was stolen and have never established a motive. Some guess that students took the trophy as a prank and never returned it, fearing possible punishment.
Officials promise amnesty. And they don't think they'll have any trouble knowing the genuine article when they see it. Trying to make a copy, they say, would be difficult. "Finding a craftsman with the skills necessary to replicate this masterpiece ... would be nearly impossible," Meringolo said.
Jim Muldoon, an avid sailor who is chairman of the school's board of trustees, said that even though there is no cup, winning the race is more than worth it.
"But the cup's a big part of the lore of St. Mary's," he said. "It would be great to have it back."