USCA PREPARES FOR SOLOMON
TROPHY AND CARTER CHALLENGE
But croquet's "bad boy" turns
team selection into soap opera
by Bob Alman
The prestigious Solomon Trophy matches pitting the United Kingdom
against the U.S. will be played at Sherwood Country Club in Southern
California April 7-11. Following the main event, in International Rules,
there will be the one-day American Rules President's Cup tourney. The Carter
Challenge against Ireland - with both American and International rules - is
scheduled for April 15-19 in Palm Beach, to give the overseas players a
chance to stay on and compete in the National Club Teams in Florida in late
Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California, has been chosen to host
the most important international team event of 1997 on American soil. It's a
well-tested and popular venue for major events, including the 1996 USCA
American Rules National Championships. The Southern California spring
weather and proximity to Los Angeles and Hollywood, with the associated
social amenities, make it a popular choice for overseas players and U.S.
croquet fans alike. (All the matches will be open to USCA members and the
public, without charge.)
BRITS SELECT POWERHOUSE TEAM FOR SOLOMON MATCHES
The ninth edition of the U.S./U.K. Solomon Trophy team event follows a
thorough drubbing of the U.S. team by the Brits in the MacRobertson Shield
in England last June/July, by a score of 20-1 in the test matches. The
21-match event of singles and doubles imitates the MacRobertson in format,
providing a consistent measure of performance from year to year (The Solomon
is not played as a separate event in MacRobertson years.)
Although the Americans would be the likely underdogs in any team the Brits
would choose, they can take cold comfort in the compliment being paid them by
the trouble the CA selectors have taken to field the most formidable of teams
to come and face the Americans on their home turf at Sherwood: world champion
Robert Fulford, Chris Clarke, Steve Comish, David Openshaw, Mark Avery, and
Ian Burridge, with Bill Lamb as team manager. In the British rankings published
January 1, 1997, these players stand, respectively, as #1, #4, #8, #9, #10,
and #15. In the world standings, the top five beat out all the Americans,
with only Burridge at #30 ranked below the top three likely Americans.
Burridge, the most controversial selection on the MacRobertson team last
year, confounded his critics by performing well for the British team, and now
as chairperson of the British Croquet Association's Selection Committee
(succeeding Keith Aiton) he has done well again by putting together a
powerful and experienced team to confront the Americans on their home turf.
TOP CHOICES FOR THE AMERICAN TEAM: TAVES, STARK, RODONI
The American selections have not been made, but should be announced soon,
despite the controversy detailed later in this story. The top Americans are,
of course, John Taves, who at #22 has now displaced Jerry Stark as the top
American in the world rankings, #29 Stark, and #30 Wayne Rodoni. These three
were stars of the U.S. MacRobertson team last June/July in England, and since
then have done nothing to diminish their stature as the preeminent American
competitors in the International Rules game.
Because the Solomon is the strongest international team event on U.S. soil
this year, the Americans are expected to field the best team possible to meet
the Brits. A Yank victory is extremely unlikely, but hopes will be high to
erase the bitter memory of the 20-1 loss in the 1996 MacRobertson by winning
a number of matches this year.
To restore American spirits, there is the traditional recourse to the
President's Cup, the one-day American rules aftermath to the Solomon, which
the Americans usually manage to win - especially if the Brits withhold their
strongest players, as they usually do.
Less important than the Solomon, but just as spirited and a lot more balanced
competitively is the Carter Challenge, a six-member team event against
Ireland which is held every two years. Irish/American challenge matches
have been held for a number of years, but the Palm Beach meeting in April
will be only the second under the new format. The series stands at 1-0 in
favor of the Americans, who won the Carter Challenge in Ireland in 1995.
LIKELY SELECTIONS: THE TOP 16 AMERICANS IN THE WCF RANKINGS
In the latest WCF world rankings, 16 Americans show up in the list of the top
179 players in the world, and it is these Americans that are the most likely
selections for the international events of 1997:
On this basis, if the world rankings are to be believed, the USCA "dream
team" of 1997 would be Taves, Stark, Rodoni, Mehas, Arnold, and Peterson.
But that's just a dream, because the USCA's walking nightmare, in the person
of Mik Mehas of Palm Springs and Hollywood, California, is a solid #4 on the
"BAD BOY" MEHAS RAISES A QUESTION WRAPPED IN AN ENIGMA
|#22|| - ||John Taves||Washington state|
|#28|| - ||Jerry Stark||Northern California|
|#29|| - ||Wayne Rodoni||Northern California|
|#47|| - ||Mik Mehas||Southern California|
|#70|| - ||Phil Arnold||Northern California|
|#75|| - ||Erv Peterson||Northern California|
|#85|| - ||John Osborn||Florida|
|#89|| - ||Ray Bell||Arizona|
|#97|| - ||Bob Kroeger||Massachusetts|
|#99|| - ||Doug Grimsley||Virginia|
|#117|| - ||Archie Burchfield||Kentucky|
|#121|| - ||Don Fournier||Arizona|
|#126|| - ||Rory Kelly||Arizona|
|#146|| - ||Carl Hanson||Northern California|
|#153|| - ||Rhys Thomas||Southern California|
|#162|| - ||Bob (Rebo) Rebuchatis||Northern California|
The enigma is Mik Mehas himself, one of the country's strongest and most
consistent players, whose case is now, for the second time, before the USCA
Grievance Committee as a result of off-court infractions at the U.S. Open in
Palm Springs in December. Based on his playing record alone, Mehas deserves
to be on the international teams. But his reputation for vulgar offcourt
behavior is profoundly disturbing to some potential teammates as well as USCA
officials charged with raising funds and putting America's "best foot
forward" in relations with other international teams.
In his home territory of Palm Springs, Mehas, though he denies this, has
reportedly been officially barred by several private developments which host
croquet clubs and sanctioned events. At one of them, Mission Hills, the
unwelcome presence of Mehas as a spectator at the USCA-sanctioned U.S. Open
occasioned an ugly incident which resulted in Mehas' expulsion. Mehas had
not been permitted to play in the "open" event in his own home town because,
the organizers said, the owners of the development would not tolerate his
presence on their property.
The incident generated a complaint to the USCA Grievance Committee, which has
the power to suspend any member for specified periods, preventing their
participation in USCA events. Worse, the reaction of Mehas to the incident
and the complaint has caused a second complaint to be filed against Mehas,
and there are rumors of a third grievance yet to be formally presented to the
This chain of events follows an unfortunate pattern in Mehas' troubles with
USCA officialdom: He seems unable to simply apologize and walk away; he
reacts, he does something rash, and he gets into deeper trouble in his
attempts to explain himself and justify his actions.
In this case, his intemperate reaction included producing and sending out to
many of the players in the U.S. Open a questionnaire implicitly criticizing
the management of the tournament, instructing the players to complete the
questionnaire and send it to the USCA. There was no return address or
indication of the source of this questionnaire, which was implied to be an
"official" USCA document. Mehas has now acknowledged his covert authorship
of the questionnaire.
The reaction of Mehas to the incident and the complaint has caused a second
complaint to be filed, and there are rumors of a third grievance yet to be
Following his reinstatement after a prior suspension, Mehas, by most reports,
has restrained his well-known volatile temper, and generally kept out of
trouble. In 1996, his deportment was good enough to survive exposure in six
major events in which he turned in superb playing performances, as reported
in CROQUET WORLD'S "New American Grand Prix" tracking of top players. But
now, the brawl with security officers at Mission Hills seems certain, in the
opinion of many, to result in another suspension.
The brawl with security officers at Mission Hills seems certain, in the
opinion of many, to result in another suspension.
The USCA Grievance Committee, chaired by Rick Sheely of Minneapolis,
Minnesota, must investigate and review these grievances before any action
can be taken. At the same time, the Selection Committee, with Bob Kroeger as
chairman, follows its own orderly process. If the Selection Committee
could proceed without consideration of the grievance process, there is little
doubt that Mehas would be on the team. If the Grievance Committee turns in
a "guilty" verdict, however, most observers assume that Mehas will not be
playing again for the USCA in the foreseeable future.
As a practical matter, insiders expect the Selection Committee to delay
making its final selection decision until the Grievance Committee completes
its investigation and makes a recommendation, in order to be fair to
everyone involved, including Mehas. These inside sources (who have requested
not to be quoted on such a touchy matter) say that there is strong sentiment
on the Selection Committee to have Mehas on the team, but USCA bigwigs have
persuaded the committee of the imprudence of selecting a croquet player who
is "under indictment" and may be barred from playing in all USCA events if
found guilty of one or more of the filed grievances.
If the Selection Committee could proceed without consideration of the
grievance process, there is little doubt that Mehas would be on the team.
Sheely has been asked - by Mehas, members of the Selection Committee, and
others - to expedite the review of the grievances against Mehas.. Sheely
told CROQUET WORLD that he expects his committee to reach a decision by
February 14, the date of the USCA Management Committee meeting.
Chairman Bob Kroeger has declined to comment, saying only that "the selection
criteria of the committee will be released following their review by the USCA
Management Committee" in their mid-February meeting.
Kroeger's statement is puzzling, in view of the detailed selection criteria
already set forth in the photocopied letter Kroeger sent out in January to
40 of the top players in the U.S. (as judged by their handicap level) asking
about their availability for the Solomon, the Carter, and the WCF World
Championship in Bunbury. The letter declares that the USCA selections will
be announced on February 10 - which now seems most unlikely.
USCA bigwigs have persuaded the committee of the imprudence of selecting a
croquet player who is "under indictment"...
Nevertheless, the Kroeger letter seems to anticipate troubles ahead. It
says in no uncertain terms, "Aside from having fine croquet skills, players
must represent their country well, with good sportsmanship and good manners,
on and off the court." Most tellingly, the letter goes on to warn, "Players
will not be selected if they are found guilty of a grievance filed through
the USCA Grievance Committee during the past year."
The Grievance Committee has broad powers of interpretation and action. If
found guilty, a USCA member could be subject to penalties ranging from a
letter of censure to a suspension of membership for one year or many years.
In the last five years, according to Sheely, the committee has handed down
no more serious penalty than letters of censure. Mik Mehas himself is the
last person to suffer a suspension of membership by decision of the Grievance
Committee. In the early 90's, he was suspended for a two-year period.
"Aside from having fine croquet skills, players must represent their country
well, with good sportsmanship and good manners, on and off the court."
In the letter sent to potential selectees, Kroeger declares the intention of
having "12 different players" compete in the Solomon and the Carter Challenge
(each event requiring 6 team members), as well as 2 alternates for each of
these events. Thus, the official American selectees could number 14.
Kroeger's letter implies that the four players chosen for November's WCF
World Singles Championship in Burbury, Western Australia, can be chosen from
among the 12 Solomon and Carter competitors. The selections for Bunbury will
not be made until approximately three months before the event, in August.
(The Sonoma-Cutrer World Singles Championship in May does not figure into the
USCA's deliberations on team selection this year. In 1996, Brice Jones,
owner/manager of Sonoma-Cutrer, did not like the selections of the committee,
severed his relationship with the USCA, and made his own selections. This
year, he will do the same. One of his selections last year was Mik Mehas,
who placed fourth.)
Selections for Bunbury will not be made until August, approximately three
months before the event.
Presaging the kind of scarcity of funding that could conceivably come from a
Mehas selection (if potential donors choose to deny funding on that basis),
the Kroeger letter warns, "Financing is not worked out. Players may have to
cover all their expenses." This would be unprecedented, as in the past much
or most of the expenses have been covered either by the Croquet Foundation of
America, by fund-raising efforts organized by the Foundation, or through the
support of a few big individual contributors.
The selection process, no matter how scrupulously it is carried out, is
almost always subject to controversy and complaint, in every country. With
so many factors to be weighed, there is seldom a clear-cut solution everyone
is glad to endorse. In the 1997 USCA selections, there can be no ideal
result. If Mehas is selected, there will be bitter complaints from USCA
benefactors, who could very well withdraw their support. If he is not
selected, at least some of the players and many fans will complain that the
United States is withholding just the kind of tough, spirited, never-say-die
attitude needed on an "underdog" international team.
"Financing is not worked out. Players may have to cover all their expenses."
Whatever the outcome, Mik Mehas will inevitably continue to be a powerful
presence in American croquet. He may never win a charm school award or be
elected to the Croquet Hall of Fame. But for a long time, and repeatedly,
he has tested the limits of the American croquet establishment, which, for
many, is the embodiment of a genteel way of life, and only secondarily a
sport. He seems incapable of following the social code, but on the court he
has achieved a mastery of the sport equaled by few.
Basketball has its Dennis Rodman. Like it or not, American croquet has Mik
He seems incapable of following the social code, but on the court he has
achieved a mastery of the sport equaled by few.
CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE will report on the American team selections as
soon as they are finalized.