The day after we meet at Meadowood, Stark is leaving for a tournament in Florida, one of half a dozen or so events he participates in each year. The beauty of the game is making the balls do what you want them to do. “A lot of players wait around for another player to make an error. I usually attack at the first opportunity. I don’t worry about missing. I just think about the positive side -- what I’m going to do to finish off [my opponent].”
Stark explains that the ethics of the game are part of what appeals to him most. Even though there are third-party referees who watch, judge shots, and settle disputes, the players are the main referees. But don’t think croquet’s civilized side softens Stark’s edge. “For me, it’s a moral game, but I’m going to do this to you,” Stark says, grinding his thumb down. “I don’t want you to score any points. When I shake hands at the beginning, I say, ‘Have a good game,’ because I want to beat you when you play your best. That’s why it’s fun to play the top foreign guys.”
Despite his success, Stark is still clear about his goals. He’d like to become one of the top 10 players in the world. He’d like to be on the U.S. team that finally wins the MacRobertson Shield, essentially croquet’s World Series team event. (The U.S. has never placed better than third in five tries since 1993.) And he yearns to beat the world’s three leading players at the finals of a major event: Robert Fulford and Chris Clarke of England and Reg Bamford of South Africa. Is time running out for the 50-something Stark? He smiles and notes that one of the world’s ranking players is 75.
But Stark is not the kind of man who dwells on what he hasn’t achieved. I ask him if he considers himself lucky. “Oh boy!” he says. “Thinking of how things could have turned out? I have friends who worked on the assembly line. They haven’t gotten to do anything. This has allowed me to do a lot.”
Yes, in a world full of people who only dream about doing what they love, Jerry Stark -- croquet player, resident pro, Hall of Famer, world traveler -- is a lucky man.