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Collegiate Croquet

Sunday, April 17, 2005; Page M08

Where: Annapolis.

Why: Boats, the bay and -- yep -- croquet.

How Far: 36 miles from Dupont Circle, or 45 minutes.

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Annapolis is home to an unlikely competition between the most unlikely of opponents. One team is comprised of dudes sporting top hats and tie-dye T-shirts who stride alongside chain-smoking chicks in vintage dresses and Doc Martens. The other team: Navy guys donning impeccable croquet whites, trailed by lowerclassmen bearing ice cold drinks on silver trays.

It's the annual croquet match between the free-spirited St. John's College and the disciplined U.S. Naval Academy. Bring a blanket and cooler to the great lawn of the liberal arts school and join Annapolitans in this free ritual of spring on Saturday at 1 p.m. Started 22 years ago, the match was conceived when some Johnnies ran into a few Middies at a local bar. The athletic midshipmen challenged the intellectual Johnnies to a game of their choice. The Johnnies chose croquet and the battle was born.

When you first arrive in Annapolis, head to Ego Alley, where boats of all sizes and origins flaunt what they've got. Waterfront benches are ideal for people watching. Soak in Annapolis's international vibe, where toffee-nosed Englishmen debarking Bermudan yachts and scruffy Key Westers who've blown in for the weekend vie for attention. Then hail a water taxi across Spa Creek to the laid-back neighborhood of Eastport, known among locals as the Maritime Republic of Eastport -- a nod to its independent spirit. Boat building studios, sailing schools and waterfront cottages remind you that the Chesapeake Bay is the reason Annapolis is Maryland's capital.

Walk along Prince George Street to the croquet match at St. John's. These two-blocks are home to killer historic architecture -- from Colonial saltboxes to Victorian mansions. But be warned: Ancient brick sidewalks make for an adventure, so ditch the Manolos. If the croquet match has brought out your inner Brit, pause for a proper English tea at Reynold's Tavern; an extensive tea menu, including finger sandwiches and tasty scones complete with clotted cream, will transport you across the pond and make you feel, well, civilized. Andrea Poe

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