It sparks rivalry among those who enjoy the game; it also sparks friendships among those same compet itors.
“It’s part of my life. The game itself is fun but it brings me an appreciation of those who enjoy it as much as I do,” said Dick Scott of Camp Hill. “It is more than a competition, more than winning.”
Scott, 67, is a member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Horseshoe Pitching Association. He started when he was a teen, but put it aside for school, a career, mar riage and a family. As he got older the love of the sport pulled him back in, and he’s been pitching for 30 years.
His wife, Beth, tried for a while and although she enjoys “doing her own thing,” she fills in on occasion when one of the regular players is not available, Scott said.
“It’s great exercise. Where else can you pick up a 2½-pound object, hurl it 40 feet — 30 feet for the ladies — then you walk after it, pick it up and do it all over again?,” he said.
Scott is one of the youngsters in the group, as many of his fellow “pitchers” are in their mid- and late 80s.
“I like to think it keeps us going. It is something to do after retirement,” he said.
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Dick Dart, 79, of Mount Wolf has been pitching horseshoes for 56 years.
His fellow pitchers will tell you Dart is affectiona tely known as “Mr. Horseshoes” and maintains the horseshoe courts and leagues that meet at the Mount Wolf Gun Club.
“I started pitching in 1957,” he said. A few years later, he was asked to join a league and “I was hooked and it took off from there,” he said.
Over the years Dart has pitched in different leagues, and traveled to Hallam and Shiloh, New Cumberland and New Freedom to compete.
“There used to be a lot of places in York County but . . . there aren’t as many places that have leagues anymore,” Dart said.
The sport is not restricted to men.
“Women pitch, too, but at 30 feet. Men pitch at 40 feet and teens can compete, too. It can really be a family thing,” he said. “They have a class of pitchers for senior men and senior women over 60 and a class for men over 70, to pitch a shorter distance. I helps keep the older guys involved.”
The Mount Wolf Fish & Game is now home to sev eral courts, both indoors and out, thanks to Dart’s in terest in keeping the sport of pitching alive. The indoor courts are especially nice in the winter and on rainy days, he said.
“The indoor rifle and pistol range wasn’t being used much, so we put horseshoe courts indoors. There are still members who come here to shoot, but it has slowly become a horseshoe club,” Dart said.
“I pitch almost every day. It is good exercise and sometimes, if they have enough to play, I’ll referee. I enjoy doing that, too,” he said.
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Robert Reynolds, 76, of York was determined to learn to pitch horseshoes.
“We would go to picnics and everyone pitched horseshoes. I liked the game and I wanted to learn how to play, so when I was 15 I went out behind the barn every day and I practiced until I could pitch,” he said.
Those long, lonely sessions paid off and soon Rey nolds was ready to step out from behind the barn and begin pitching at picnics and other gatherings.
“I pitched every chance I got, and I learned every body has their own way of pitching and what works for you might not work for someone else,” Reynolds said.
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Don Hickman 75, of Glen Rock, grew up in Nash ville, Tenn., where pitching horseshoes was pretty much a way of life.
“My dad pitched, and so did my brothers. Even my sisters pitched and they were pretty good. I guess I was about 9 or 10 years old when I started,” he said.
It was part of every family gathering and every church picnic. It was really just a part of growing up in the south.
“There are four of us left . . . I used to pitch in a league in Maryland,” Hickman said.
Hickman tried out the new court at the Glen Rock Park and found it to his liking.
“It’s pretty good. The shoes stick, they don’t slide. You don’t want them to slide,” he said.
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Denny Hall, 53, of Huntingdon is president of the Eastern Pennsylvania Horseshoe Pitching Associa tion. For him, it comes down to doing what you enjoy and doing it with friends.
“I always pitched, and for me the biggest part is just the people,” he said.
With tournaments every weekend and games during the week, he is kept pretty busy.
It happens outdoors from April through Septem ber and then it all moves inside, but the sport never loses its luster and Hall is most pleased when young people take an interest.
“One girl just turned 16 and she is fourth or fifth in the country in the junior class. She loves it, took to it right away, but her parents also pitch and so does her brother,” Hall said. “We would like to find a way to introduce the sport in the schools or work through the Scouts to get more young people involved.”
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Dale Estep, who lives near Wilkes-Barre, is secre tary of the Eastern Pennsylvania Horseshoe Pitching Association.
He is 65 years old and has been pitching competiti vely for 13 years.
“You meet the nicest people in the world,” he said of his involvement in the sport.
He took advantage of the opportunity to sing the praises of some of the folks who call York home.
In 2008, the EPHPA hosted the Horseshoe World Tournament at the York Expo Center and Dale, who was president of the association at the time, and his wife, Jeannie, hosted the two-week event that involved more than 1,300 competitors, he said.
“We worked closely with your convention and visi tors bureau and have maintained ties with them since the event. We spent three weeks in York and the people were phenomenal,” Estep said. “They did it right. The people at the (York Expo Center) were great to work with. We had a successful tournament and we hope to come back again.”
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Ray Benedict, 81, of Hallam has been playing horseshoes since 1964 and would like to see more young people take an interest in the game.
“York County used to have 16 teams and a travel ing league,” he said. “They went all over the area.”
Benedict has participated several times in the horseshoes competition in the York County Senior Games. At this year’s event, he won a gold medal in singles and teamed up with Gene Bixler of Hanover to win a gold medal in doubles.
He also participated in the World Tournament in 2008, when it was held at the York Expo Center.
“Dick Dart tied for first, then lost to the other guy.” Benedict said. “I placed fifth.”
HEEL OR HEEL CALK: The area of the horseshoe, at the open end, that includes the “tips” and the “hooks.”
LEANER: A live shoe that comes to rest vertically while touching the stake. This shoe has a scoring value of one point.
PIT: A rectangular area around the stake and between the platforms. Players pitch the shoes into the pit, which is filled with clay or sand.
PITCHERS BOX: The 6-feet-by-6-feet area at each end of the court. This area includes the pit and pitching platforms.
RINGER: A shoe that comes to rest while encircling the stake. A straight edge touch ing either the tips or any part of the heel calks of the shoe must clear, not touch, the stake in order to be declared a ringer. A ringer has a value of three points.
TOE: The area of the horseshoe that is far thest from the open end.
Want to play?
RAY BENEDICT of Hallam is seeking horseshoe pitchers of all ages for a fall league.
The league pitches at the Hallam horse shoe pits in the recreation area on Beaver Street in Hallam.
The summer league started the second week of May and ends in July. Games begin at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the sports park in Hallam, and usually end before 9 p.m. Different groups play each day; Thursdays are for couples.
There are eight pitchers in each group and they pitch against each other. They play four games per night, 50 shoes per game. Regulation pitching distance is 40 feet, but Benedict said the group does make some exceptions: Women pitch at 30 feet, women 65 and older pitch at 25 feet, and men 70 and older pitch at 30 feet.
“We play for fun,” he said.
Benedict said the oldest member is 87, and the youngest member is in his 30s. The league is open to men and women of all ages.
The fall league might be doubles, if there are enough participants.
Anyone interested in pitching in the fall league should call Benedict at 717-755-1544.
Age groupsRULES for competitive horseshoe pitching vary according to age. Age groups include:
· Junior Cadets, any pitcher 12 or younger.
· Junior boy, any male pitcher 18 or younger.
· Junior girls, any female pitcher 18 or younger.
· Open men, no age restriction.
· Open women, no age restriction.
· Senior men, 60 years and older
· Senior women, 60 years and older
A HORSESHOE TOURNAMENT is planned for Aug. 24 at the Hallam horse shoe pits in the recreation area off Beaver Street in Hallam.
The tournament is open to anyone; pitchers are not required to have been part of a league.
There is a $5 entry fee. Registration and practice begins at 10 a.m. and pitching will start at 11 a.m.
For details, call Ray Benedict at 755-1544.
THE GREEKS started it all.
· Discus throwing was part of the origi nal Grecian Olympic Games.
· Followers of the Greek Army threw discarded horseshoes at stakes driven into the ground.
· The English established rules of the game in 1869.
· During the Civil War Union soldiers spent idle time pitching mule shoes.The Na tional Horseshoe Pitching Association is said to have started in those Union camps and soon courts were being laid out in the backyards of Northern states.
· The first tournament on record in the United States was held in 1909.Rules have been changed and revised over the years. Today, tournaments sanctioned by the as sociation recognize six classes as champi onship: men, women, boys, girls, senior men and elders 70 years and over.
Return to the Farm Show
HORSESHOES was previously part of the Pennsylvania Farm Show, until it was dropped a number of years ago.
Recently, it was brought back as part of an effort to showcase the sport and get people involved.
“There is competition going on, and an area opens to anyone in the audience who wants to try their luck. We have hundreds and hundreds of people who give it a try,” said Dale Estep, Eastern Pennsylvania Horseshoe Pitching Association secretary.
There are wristbands for kids who try it and something for anyone who gets a ringer, he said.
“We are introducing it to people who are learning about it for the first time, and I think that has been a success,” said Dick Scott of Camp Hill. “We have people who say to us ‘I didn’t even know the game existed,’ and we are saying to them, try it, you might find out you like it.”
WHEN KEPT AS A TALISMAN, a horse shoe is said to bring good luck. Some be lieve hanging it with the ends pointing upwards is good luck, as it acts as a stor age container of sorts for any good luck that happens to be floating by, whereas to hang it with the ends pointing down is bad luck because all the good luck will fall out.
Others believe the horseshoe should be hung with the ends pointing down, as it will then release its luck to the people around it.