Age-old croquet the 'new' game in Hurricane

Kenny Kemp
Troy Rooper, 81, hits a croquet ball with a mallet he made from mahogany. His grandson, Grant, and his son, Mark Rooper, watch him play. The three make up the Teays Valley Express competitive croquet team.
Kenny Kemp
Lucas Cooper, 13, hits the ball while his brother, Zach, 16, watches. The two started playing croquet regularly last year, after Rooper, Zach's teacher, got him interested in the game.
Kenny Kemp
Mallets made by Troy Rooper were a Christmas present for his son and grandson, who started playing croquet competitively last year.
HURRICANE, W.Va. -- Troy Rooper slightly bends his knees while grasping a wooden croquet mallet in front of him. After studying the field momentarily, his arms move -- thwack!Cupping one hand above his eyebrows, he searches through the bright sunlight to see how far the ball has gone.It's through a wicket. His ball is "live."Even at 81, while suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, Troy Rooper plays the centuries-old game of croquet. He hand-crafted mahogany mallets as a Christmas present for himself, his son and grandson.
Troy, Mark and Grant Rooper make up the Teays Valley Express, a croquet team that Mark, 49, started last year after returning from Pocahontas County, where he stumbled across a croquet tournament."I knew I had to start playing again," Mark Rooper said. "The name was started as a softball team and has been used throughout the years in many different sports. I thought this would be a good way to carry it on."Carrying on the family tradition of croquet -- and teaching the rules to some of his marketing students at Hurricane High School -- has proved to be great fun, he said. "My dad taught me how to play," said Grant Rooper, 12. "[The game] makes you think about what your opponent is going to do."Mark Rooper said there have been several tournaments where their team has had the youngest and oldest player competing.One of his students, Zach Cooper, 16, said he played when he was younger, but was inspired to start again because of his teacher."I really like the history of the game" Cooper said. "And I like being able to play with people of all different ages. You can play with a 6-year-old or a 70-year-old."
The sport of croquet was born in the British Isles in the mid-19th century and soon migrated to most other English-speaking countries, according to theU.S. Croquet Association website.Zach Cooper, his brother Lucas and Brittany Minor make up the Ralphinators, named after Minor's pet Chihuahua.Minor, 16, said croquet is "a more laid-back game" compared to soccer, which she also plays.
"It's still competitive, though," she said, while standing barefoot in the field holding her mallet."We had 10 teams in the last tournament," said Mark Rooper, who added that croquet has been described as a combination of chess, golf and billiards."Chess, because you have to think ahead -- you don't want to leave the ball where someone can play off it, and golf, because you have to play the angles," he said."It definitely takes thought to play well as a team," he said before yelling to his son, warning him about the position of Minor's ball.  "Don't go where she can get you."Playing croquet brings back memories from his childhood, Troy Rooper said, and he enjoys getting to play the game with his family."I hadn't seen it played for so many years and it used to be a regular pastime," he said.
The group is always looking for teams to play against. Three people are needed per team; those interested can contact Mark Rooper at teamcroquet@gmail.com.Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.
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