Athens vs. Sparta; David vs. Goliath; Hippies vs. The Military... it's been described as each, and they're all wrong
Seemingly, the Naval Academy and St. John's College occupy opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum - with the Naval Academy on the far right and St. John's occupying the far left. That perception has given rise to all the colorful taglines and nicknames for this epic event - but they all amount to nothing more than stereotypes; superficial labels meant for easy digestion. By no means do these labels begin to tell the story of the Annapolis Cup. Rain or shine, both teams meet on the front lawn of the St. John's College campus to compete in a series of five matches in front of thousands of spectators, many in costume ranging from "Alice in Wonderland" to "The Great Gatsby". If the sun's shining it's a magical day - the unofficial beginning of Spring, celebrated with good food, fine libations and swing dancing to Big Band music courtesy of a Naval Academy band. The atmosphere may be one of a giant party - but on the croquet pitch? It's deadly serious. Both teams are here to win. It's a best of five event; the winner being able to claim a trophy and of course, bragging rights. Both teams are not only motivated by their love of competition and the game; Over the years it's become personal. For St. John's College, overshadowed by the bigger, brasher Naval Academy, it's a chance to reclaim the City of Annapolis - if only for the day. And for Navy, with an institutional culture based on winning - its a battle for respect.
Both the idea for this game and this movie started the way all good ideas start... over beer.
Filmmakers Zach Guerra and Brian O'Hare both graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Zach served as a Naval Aviator and Brian served as a Marine Corps officer. Inspired by ESPN's great "30 For 30" documentary series - Zach and Brian realized the story of the Annapolis Cup - the annual croquet grudge match between the U.S. Naval Academy and across the street rival St. John's College - was a story with implications reaching far beyond a "silly" croquet match. "Cannon Shot" is not only the story of a great sports rivalry - it's the story of a nation in crisis, torn into "Red" and "Blue".
Everyone thinks they know the true story...but they don't.
- The Annapolis Cup is the biggest croquet match in the WORLD. 7,000 spectators attended last year's match. By comparison the croquet world championships attracts an audience of 500 (including the players).
- St. John's College is the third oldest college (1696) in the United State, behind only Harvard (1636) and William and Mary (1693).
- Both the U.S. Naval Academy and St. John's College are located directly across the street from another. They share a street in the heart of Annapolis called King George Street.
- The U.S. Naval Academy has just over 4000 Midshipmen and is considered to be the premiere military academy in the world.
- St. John's College has just over 400 students, known as "Johnnies" and has a unique curriculum based on the "Great Books Program". It's widely regarded as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the world.
- The croquet game that the Naval Academy and St. John's play is known as 9-Wicket croquet, with a smattering of 6-Wicket rules. It's a game of skill, patience, finesse and tactics.
- Croquet is the only sport the two schools compete in.
- Since 1983, the Johnnies have beaten the Midshipman 28 out of 35 times. (That's a 28 - 7 record in favor of the Johnnies).
Two schools separated by a common street...
... and intellectual ideologies.
On the surface both schools represent what appears to be competing political perspectives; the "Hippies" vs. the "War Mongers"; the "Poets and Philosophers" vs. the "Warriors". Both schools are so entrenched in their own worlds, separated from the outside world by walls, both real and metaphorical. The Naval Academy has a physical wall surrounding the school a remnant from its origins as Fort Severn, while St. John's College is insulated by the "Johnny Bubble" - a state of mind that prevents most Johnnies from feeling they need or want to interact with the world beyond campus. Though they share a common street - both schools might as well be located in different countries.
The Naval Academy is a four year Federal service academy - meaning that it's run by the U.S. Navy and funded by the U.S. taxpayer (there is no tuition). Prospective Midshipmen must first secure a "nomination" from either a Congressman or Senator and then an "appointment" from the Academy itself to gain entrance into the 4,000 strong school. The Naval Academy is consistently ranked as one of the top liberal arts schools in the United States. Upon graduation, Midshipmen are commissioned as Ensigns in the U.S. Navy or Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Marine Corps and must serve a five-year commitment in the service.
St. John's College is a four year private liberal arts institution, based on the "Great Books Program". Students read the classic works of Western Civilization, from Homer to Marx, with "Tutors" instead of professors and "Seminars" instead of a traditional class format. This unique curriculum puts emphasis on the Great Books as the "teachers" - while "Tutors" are there to guide students in a non-directive manner as compared with mainstream colleges. Modern textbooks and traditional examinations are absent and though a traditional grading system (A to F) does exist, grades are de-emphasized.
But appearances are deceptive. As we look closer, similarities between the two schools begin to manifest. This reaches its zenith as the two schools come together in to compete for the Annapolis Cup. Yet these schools don't compete like other schools. They come together in harmony, to celebrate and long standing tradition, complicated relationship, and of course to play croquet.