News, Spin Op-ed Guest Column

Arkansas History Revised with Croquet as Catalyst

Guest column, 1st run Friday 4 July 1986 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben Pollock Jr.

Editor’s note: Ben Pollock Jr. is a copy editor for the Arkansas Democrat.

Copyright 1986 Ben S. Pollock


Steve Clark was “two-ball dead” and Mahlon Martin, wickets ahead, smiled while he considered his next shot. Neither had money on the croquet game, but they were gambling something more important, the future of Arkansas.

Clark, the attorney general, and Martin, director of the Department of Finance and Administration, were playing croquet by rules unfamiliar to them, evening the odds.

On June 14, as part of the Sesquicentennial Salute to Statehood Weekend, Clark, Martin and their partners — also state officials — stood on a three-quarter-size U.S. Croquet Association greensward playing tournament six-wicket, one-stake rules.

Their bet was noble, and crucial. Clark’s winning would mean elected state officials were tax-paid employees and all state workers would be forbidden to do business with the state.

His win thus meant studying the appropriate state law and, with no more interpretation than reading it on face value, announce intentions to enforce it.

Martin’s stake was outside any law. By trouncing the state’s attorney, Martin would never have to play Clark again. In fact, no state employee would be allowed to play games with any colleague, citizen or group of the Land of Opportunity.

Political game-playing is beyond the law, for no legislator or governor has had the nerve to forbid it. But on a level field of sport, a duel under a hot Sesquicentennial sun could change the state’s operations forever.

Tom Rystrom, a local businessman and president of the Little Rock Croquet Club, and I, pooh-bah of the Arkansas Democrat’s Mallets Aforethought croquet team, explained the rules and crossed our fingers.

As neutral observers, we advised Clark that he was in a figurative “sticky wicket.” Playing the red ball, he was dead on his partner’s yellow ball and on Martin’s blue. Clark could not “roquet,” or hit, yellow or blue until he cleared his next wicket.

Martin, having just made his hoop, was now free to send Clark’s red far from the jaws of Clark’s next hoop. The chief accountant confidently smacked red with his blue ball.

Martin placed blue against red for the “croquet” shot.

But the temptation of sending Clark’s ball sailing, a defensive move, countered popping red an inch or two while blue traveled to its next, the last or “rover,” wicket. Then, on his continuation shot, Martin could clear that final wicket and, with the extra shot awarded for clearing the hoop, “stake out” to end the game — and the state’s game-playing.

Mahlon Martin opted for offense. He made Clark’s ball tremble and end his ball’s travel a mere yard before the next hoop. Unfortunately, he grew overconfident, as is so common on the greensward, and his ball bounced off the rover wicket instead of going through, ending his turn.

Steve Clark stilled his mind and guided his ball an impressive 20 feet through his wicket, getting another turn.

He then began a “break,” or roqueting other balls, since red now was “cleared of deadness,” to make the remaining wickets. Red smacked the stake with a thud reminiscent of a wooden baseball bat hitting solid.

Thus the state’s history was revised, for on June 19, a mere five days later, Clark announced certain business dealings of all state employees constituted conflicts of interest.

Martin meanwhile sent memorandums to all state workers explaining that while officials and other employees may not profit from the the state directly, they certainly could play games with us as before.

* * *

The croquet game did occur. You can ask the participants. Besides, I have a photograph.

I made up the play-by-play, because I had to leave for work in mid-game. And the bit about the bet also was an invention. But don’t you think the time of the croquet match and Clark’s legal opinion more than a coincidence?


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