On The Yard


    The Annapolis Cup: A Hometown Rivalry with Down-Home Revelry

    By Bill the Goat on April 8, 2024

    The Annapolis Cup: A Hometown Rivalry with Down-Home Revelry

    (Revamped for 2024)


    Every spring, an extraordinary event draws around 4,000 expectant spectators to Annapolis for "a friendly-but-fierce rivalry.” This highly anticipated game has been an Annapolis fixture since 1982, and it’s as much frolicky fun as it is a serious set. There are songs to kick off the revelry, and there is dancing on the walkways. There is also a large trophy to celebrate the winner. The sport? Croquet. The contenders? The U.S. Naval Academy and their cross-street rivals, St. John’s College. The name of the game? The Annapolis Cup.


    Don’t Miss It!

    The legendary Annapolis Cup started in 1982, when the commandant of the U.S. Naval Academy allegedly told St. John’s freshman Kevin Heyburn the Naval Academy Midshipmen could beat the St. John’s Johnnies in any sport. Heyburn reputedly quipped, “What about croquet?” This Johnnie suggested a match to a group of Midshipmen, thinking it would help strengthen the schools’ relationship. Forty years on, the friendly Annapolis St. John’s/USNA croquet rivalry is strong, and both schools welcome the chance to compete. Per tradition, the Johnnies kick off the Annapolis Cup each year when they attend lunch at King Hall and their Imperial Wicket (captain) formally challenges the Midshipmen to a match.


    Special Annapolis Cup Traditions

    Prized traditions keep the sport endlessly interesting. First, not every midshipman is eligible to be on the USNA croquet sport team. It’s a unique honor to participate. Based on past protocol, the midshipmen in the 28th company (it was the 34th when there were 36 companies) claim that coveted honor and are known as the “USNA croquet company.” Once they voice their interest, midshipmen in this company who want to be part of the action are selected by the Imperial Wicket. While all USNA club and varsity athletes are eligible to earn blue letter sweaters, midshipmen playing in the Annapolis Cup are the only ones who wear white sweaters with a gold “N.” They pair these U.S. Croquet Association croquet whites with a team tie that changes each year.


    The Johnnies, not to be outdone, also switch up their uniforms every year, revealing them right before the match. Years prior have found them sporting everything from Viking costumes, to camouflage, to kilts, to imitation USNA Crackerjack uniforms. Jaunty music kicks off the festivities, as the St. John’s Freshman Chorus and the Naval Academy Trident Brass band get the match started. Then the Johnnies’ uniforms are revealed and the ceremonial first ball is struck. Here’s where the serious action starts.


    Play Ball!

    Both twelve-person teams work in pairs, playing in several matches that wind through the double diamond layout of nine metal wickets and two wooden stakes. The goal is to be the first side to score fourteen wicket points and two stake points for each ball. People picnic on the sidelines and Plebes in dress mess uniforms keep the players hydrated.

    Practicing for the Win

    April McBride, a 1998 USNA graduate who now serves as a Training Manager for NABSD Human Resources, was in the 28th company as a Firstie, and was chosen to be on the USNA croquet team. (Pictured to the left). As has been typical since 1992, her team was able to practice a few weeks prior to the match by playing the Ginger Cove Croquet Team, made up of the residents at nearby Ginger Cove retirement community. The Johnnies also practiced against this team, and were themselves instrumental in teaching McBride and her team the game. She says, “Overall, Navy lost the year I played, but one of our teams won their match, so we considered that a big win! St. John’s takes croquet very seriously, and they are difficult to beat.” She remembers the Cup fondly, “It was fun to be a participant in such a unique event! The atmosphere was festive, full of people dressed up and enjoying picnics on the lawn.”


    A Match Made in Annapolis: This Year’s Competition

    Led by Imperial Wickets Midshipmen Bob Dickenson (Class of 2024) and Midshipman Liam Wert (Class of 2025), this year’s Navy team is ready to conquer croquet! They recently played an exhibition match against Ginger Cove and are excited for the game on April 13th. Midshipmen Dickenson says, “We look forward to seeing play from some Firstie veterans, as well as the next generation of Clubbers in the Class of 26. We are feeling confident against the Johnnies, and will be having them to King Hall on April 12th to receive their challenge and host them for lunch.” In the meantime, the team is busy practicing after class on Farragut Field, running drills and scrimmaging each other in preparation for the Cup.

    Last year was the first year that the match returned to St. John’s after COVID, and the Annapolis Cup kicked off a newly created “Johnnie Week.” Last year also had mixed results. While the final outcome wasn’t total victory, the Midshipmen ultimately posted three wins to St. John’s four, making it a close competition. A Saturday lightning delay split the event into two days. Sunday’s loss brought the final score to 2-3. 


    The resulting victory for St. John’s brought the overall record to 31 wins for Johnnies and 8 for the USNA croquet team. Even so, this amicable tradition is a win for all. “I liked being with a group of people I have come to admire and respect, as well as the camaraderie of the after-party. Win or lose, we enjoy the night,” says last year’s Imperial Wicket, Johnny Colbert. On Sunday’s croquet game last year, he and his partner Midshipman Carson Knight struck a deal to do a set of push-ups after each easy shot they missed. That added to the stakes, and they tallied about 300 push-ups too. Midshipmen never miss a chance to train.


    Come Play on the Yard

    The Annapolis Cup is just the beginning of a fun season. You can enjoy the 40th matchup on April 13th at St. John’s College this year! The atmosphere on the entire Yard is electric right now. With the advent of spring and the days quickly marching toward Commissioning Week, Midshipmen are feeling the renewed sense of possibility that springs every year.

    Come see history in action. You can catch one of their many club or varsity games, experience Noon Meal Formation, or take a guided USNA tour. When you visit or book a tour, you’re supporting the midshipmen. Proceeds from dining, shopping, and tours go to their extracurricular activities, including cultural arts, theater, music, club sports, and more. Visit the Yard, and feel the special thrill that is history in the making.

    Take a Tour

    Bill the Goat
    Written by Bill the Goat | April 8, 2024


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