Irish cannonball croquet

  • Michael Haley of Conway has invented “€˜Irish Cannonball Croquet,”€™ where contestants try to negotiate a series of different size wickets with cannonballs while avoiding obstacles. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tom Pleasant of the sponsoring Conway Sportsman Club throws a cannonball at a “jaguar” wicket with Ron Hawkes who is a field judge and scorer Joan Haley watching. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Michael Haley, left, has invented ‘Irish Cannonball Croquet’ where contestants try to negotiate a series of different size wickets with cannonballs while avoiding obstacles, the flags. With him demonstrating at the Conway playing fields are his wife, Joan Haley who is serving as scorer, Tom Pleasant of the sponsoring Conway Sportsman Club throwing, and Ron Hawkes who is a field judge. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 6/13/2019 10:00:20 AM

Irish cannonball croquet is a great deal of fun — probably. No one knows for sure. That’s because it’s never been played.

Conway resident Michael Haley invented it about a month ago and the whimsical, made-up game will make its debut at the Conway Ballfield in the center of town Saturday. The event will be sponsored by the Conway Sportsman’s Club to benefit its scholarship fund for local students.

“The best thing is, it brings people together,” Haley said, describing his newly invented sport as "croquet without mallets.” The game borrows from Irish road bowling, a sport in which competitors roll a metal ball along a roadway. In Irish cannonball croquet, players lob or roll cannonballs wicket to wicket, which Haley said bear little resemblance to those of croquet. Irish road bowling is said to have originated in the 1600s, either when Dutch soldiers brought it after William of Orange got to Ireland in 1689 or the British occupied Ireland and rebels would sneak into barracks and castles to steal cannonballs and roll them because they were too heavy to lug.

Participants attempt to take the fewest throws to propel a ball along a predetermined course. Haley has organized a few fundraisers in the form of Irish road bowling competitions, which meander through Conway’s picturesque winding roadways.

He has received regulation 28-ounce cannonballs from the West Virginia Irish Road Bowling Association for his new game.

According to Haley, the winner of Irish cannonball croquet is the team that goes through the final wicket with the fewest points. A player accrues a point for every toss or lob he or she makes. No point is scored if the toss goes through the wicket. A point is added if a player’s ball hits another team’s ball. A point is also added if a barrier is hit or if a player’s feet leave the “stance discs” while tossing or lobbing the ball.

Haley said he expects there to be 24 teams consisting of two to four players, depending on how many people register on the day. Teams 1 through 12 will be divided into Group A and teams 13 through 24 will be in Group B. Each team’s ball is colored and numbered. At the beginning of Saturday’s tournament, all first players from Group A take their team’s ball and, in team-numbered order, launch it toward the first wicket. Meanwhile, the second players from Group A watch near the first wicket to see where their team’s ball lands. When all the first players from Group A have finished, the second players, in team-numbered order, take their shots — with the third players watching. When Group A is finished going through the first wicket, Group B begins throwing toward the first wicket, and so on and so forth in what Haley calls “madness and controlled chaos.” If any team cannot get through a wicket by that team’s fifth shot, they are penalized and moved beyond the wicket.

Haley insists the rules are not as complicated as they may initially seem.

“And, of course, there are obstacles and officials who they’ll love to hate,” said Haley.

So far, more than 50 players have signed up, Haley said. That number can be increased to 72 or 96 players. There will be trophies and food. A flyer for the event states it will begin at 10 a.m. and end around 3 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for players 15 to 90 years old and $5 for those 9 to 14. Haley said there are a bunch of pre-registered players in their late 80s.

The game’s inventor

The conception of Irish cannonball croquet is basically par for the course for Haley, who has an affinity for inventing games. The 76-year-old is the brainchild of The Chesbro Challenge and the National Crazy Eights Tournament, with all proceeds from the events going to charity. Haley described The Chesbro Challenge as a game that is baseball-inspired but “not baseball at all,” involving a designated slow-motion pitcher. The game is named after National Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Jack Chesbro, who died in 1931 and is buried in Conway.

Haley said Crazy Eights is like Uno.

“I’ve always loved weirdness. I’ve always thought outside the box,” he said. “I want to make Conway the whacky game capital of Franklin County, maybe the world, eventually.”

Respect their authority

Haley provided The Recorder with a list of officials that will oversee the Irish cannonball croquet game Saturday.

Cindy Ouimette and Conway Police Chief Ken Ouimette will be field judges, Ron Hawkes and Kathy Goodfield will serve as marker judges, Joan Haley (Michael Haley’s wife) and Dan Fitzgibbons are field scorekeepers, and Tom Pleasant is described as the “Major Domo.” Michael Haley will serve as an announcer.

Haley is somewhat familiar with the rigors of sports officiating, having portrayed an umpire in the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” – starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, and Madonna, and directed by Penny Marshall — about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. In the famous “There’s no crying in baseball” scene, Haley’s character ejects Rockford Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan (played by Hanks) from a game for berating a player and making a phallic reference to Haley’s character.

Originally from Pittsfield, Haley settled in Conway in 1989, finding the town’s pace a refreshing change from the places he had been during his career in the movie industry, which he was in for 40 years. He won an Emmy for his work on the HBO miniseries “Angels in America.”

“Conway’s heaven to me. I’ve been every place, but you can’t beat this place, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “The reason I love bringing, especially in this community, people together is Conway is very spread out. We don’t really have a central place to do anything.”

Haley can be reached at 413-537-9149 for details.

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