Horseshoes still ringing for club started in the late 1940s
HOUSTON, Pa. (AP) — The game of horseshoes might not be as popular as it once was in Washington County, but since the late 1940s, a horseshoe club in Chartiers Township has kept the sport alive.
Four days a week, all year round, the nearly 40 members of the Washington County Horseshoe Club pitch at the Washington County Fairgrounds.
“There’s a lot of good pitchers here,” said Bill Murray, who has been a member for nearly 40 years - the longest of any of the current players. “We get here around 3 o’clock and we throw all night. Years ago, they all stayed until midnight.”
The club has four clay courts - two indoor and two outdoor.
On a recent Tuesday, more than a dozen members showed up to pitch.
Amid the clank of the metal horseshoes hitting the stakes, the group chatted, munched on hot dogs and snacks, and drank beer and pop while they waited for their turn to throw.
Among them was Dave Roberts of Wolfdale, who joined the league in 2004, after he retired from the Pennsylvania Railroad.
“I always wanted to pitch, but I worked all the time, 12- and 16-hour shifts,” said Roberts. “As soon as I retired, I came here. I love it.”
Most of the members are in their 70s and 80s.
One exception is Gavin Kahrig, a 26-year-old who has been pitching horseshoes for half of his life.
Kahrig’s grandfather runs an indoor winter tournament, Kahrig’s Red Barn, in Woodsfield, Ohio, where some of the Washington Horseshoe Club members compete.
Kahrig, who lives in Ohio, works in Southwestern Pennsylvania during the week and pitched at Horseshoes of Pittsburgh Enterprises (HOPE) in Carnegie before he began throwing at the fairgrounds.
Kahrig is hooked on the game.
“I guess I just like the challenge of the game and the competition. It’s not an easy game to master. Most of the guys here are pretty good,” said Kahrig.
Pitching, the players agree, is harder than it looks.
The courts are 40 feet long, and at each end are 15-inch-high metal stakes.
Players over the age of 70 or who have a disability can pitch from 30 feet.
All have adopted their own style of throwing, from tossing a flat shoe to “turning” the shoe at the release.
Larry Peterson holds the unofficial record for most ringers in a row, 24. He bested Murray, who a few weeks earlier had pitched 23 consecutive ringers.
Like many players, Peterson was introduced to the game by a family member.
“My uncle got me started when I was 12. I joined here in 1988 and I’ve been here ever since,” said Peterson.
The metal horseshoes, which weigh between 2 pounds, 8 ounces and 2 pounds, 10 ounces, vary in quality and shape, and can be expensive, Murray noted.
“When I first started coming here, you could buy two shoes for $15 or $20. Now, they’ll cost you close to $100 for a good pair,” said Murray.
All of the players have fashioned their own pick-up hooks, a metal stick with a hook at the end to pick up the horseshoes out of the clay.
Murray concedes the game has declined in popularity.
At one point, he noted, the club had 150 members, and many Washington County residents had installed horseshoe courts in their yards.
Anderson believes a generational gap has contributed to the decline.
“This generation would rather be on the internet or playing video games,” he said.
There’s room for more members, and guests are encouraged to stop in to give the game a try.
Annual membership dues are $40, with a $5 initiation fee. It includes unlimited playing time and a key to the clubhouse.
Said Nelson Porter, a member for 21 years, “Where else can you do something fun for $40 a year?”
A handful of members belong to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association and can compete in association tournaments, the club remains independent.
According to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, it is believed that horseshoe pitching descended from the ancient Greek sport of discus throwing. Many poor people who could not afford a discus used discarded horseshoes to throw at a stake. Civil War soldiers pitched horseshoes to pass the time.
None of the players plans to give up the game anytime soon.
Said one member, “We’ve got a lot of horseshoes left in us. I can see us doing this until we’re planted in the ground.”
Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com