The air in Kemp Olson Memorial Park in Toledo was filled with the heavy thud of sledgehammers striking bowling balls Saturday afternoon, often followed by cries of victory or defeat.
It was the “mondo croquet” tournament, the first of its kind in the park — an event its organizers hope will become an annual tradition. All the money from registration fees was donated to Toledo parks.
Mondo croquet is similar to the traditional yard game, albeit with more heavy-duty gear. Rather than a light mallet, the players wielded mighty sledgehammers and rather than heavy plastic balls, they struck bowling balls. The wickets and stakes are made of rebar.
“We have such a wonderful resource here, I like it when people use it,” said Jamie Cummings, the event’s organizer, of the park. She said she played the game in Portland years back and thought it was fun. She spent the last few months gathering bowling balls at Goodwill.
“We do a fair number of odd things in the parks to help support them,” she said.
The rules are simple. Every player gets one hit per turn, with certain circumstances — like going through a wicket or hitting an opponent’s ball — providing an extra hit. Hit the ball through a series of wickets and you become a “zombie.” Then, if you hit your ball into an opponent’s, they’re out of the game. But a zombie ball is out if it comes into contact with rebar. Last ball standing wins.
Eleven people gathered to play Saturday. Five played in the first game, with six to play in the second. Then the winners of both games were to pair off in a final death match. The winner took home a mini croquet set.
Many wore all-white outfits, in keeping with the traditional croquet garb.
“These sledgehammers aren’t something I’m used to in everyday life as an art dealer,” said Nathan Coenig as the first game was underway. He was visiting from New York. He said he was visiting family, but winning the game had quickly become a top priority of his visit.
The five had some trouble early on negotiating the slight dips and hills in the park’s lawn, with balls rolling this way and that away from their intended destination.
Jeff Landrum took an early lead, and maintained it for almost the entire game, with Coenig following on his heels.
Meanwhile, Cindy Samco, her husband Eric Hayes and Ethan Siegel — Cummings’ husband, who helped in setting up the course — spent several turns languishing at the halfway point. At that spot, players had to hit the ball through two wickets, strike a rebar pole and then go back through the wickets. A small Teddy bear was impaled on the pole — an aesthetic touch.
Hayes, with a wild swing, upended the stake entirely, then took it in his hand and raised the skewered Teddy above his head as though in some warped recreation of a scene in “Lord of the Flies.”
Landrum and Coenig displayed the most finesse, as they both quickly navigated the second half of the course, which winds back around to the starting point, where the player achieves zombie status. Although, Siegel broke loose from the pack and closed in on the “zombie’s lair,” as Coenig called it, too.
Landrum was the first zombie, and took Siegel out of the game — the first casualty. He then started a path to the other end of the course, with the intent of ending the stragglers. Hayes, at one point, requested for Landrum to put an end to his suffering.
When Landrum arrived, Hayes began using the rebar as cover. Landrum dared a shot, striking Hayes’ ball, and then ricocheting into a rebar wicket, ending both of their games in kamikaze fashion.
“It was worth it,” said Landrum.
Coenig, in the meantime, achieved zombie status. He set his sights on Samco, who had quietly begun an efficient charge to the zombie’s lair. The game turned into something of a chess game, with Samco using wickets as cover, and taking advantage of an overshot or two from Coenig.
However, a single well-placed shot from Coenig took Samco out of the game, and crowned Coenig the victor.
“I was smelling blood,” he said. “It was good to taste it.”