Winning team members Brian Mann, Marj Thalen, and Brad Vaughan hoist their trophy. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Pelham horseshoers hold annual tournament


The Pelham Horseshoe Pitching League held its 20th annual tournament last Sunday, drawing several dozen of its members to Centennial Park in Fenwick. The league, which meets every Wednesday night during the summer, is comprised of players ranging from 22 and up, and this is one of the things that league organizer Virge Parvu so loves about horseshoes.

“It’s such a great game because everyone can play it. We have kids come out, older people, younger people—we have some women in the league, too.”

While the club’s turnout had been down slightly this year, Parvu said that there are typically 35 people who play on Wednesdays, most of whom came out on Sunday, too.

Horseshoes is a deceptively difficult game, and this was apparent early on. “Shoes,” as initiates call them, must be thrown onto a metal pole from 40 feet away, but often even perfect tosses will bounce off the post, or skip off the surrounding sand and come up just short.

Even Larry Vervaeke, who is known to take the game the most seriously of all the club’s members, says that he only throws “ringers” (when the horseshoe hugs the pole) about 20 percent of the time. Vervaeke recently competed in the Canadian championship in Guelph, where he did well in F division, but where he says winners in A division throw ringers upwards of 80 percent of the time.

There is an entire world of competitive horseshoes, with its very own superstar. Ohioan Alan Francis has won the World Horseshoe Championship 22 times. In 2010 the New York Times called him “perhaps the most dominant athlete in any sport in the country.” Horseshoes was first played to a great degree in North America in Union camps during the Civil War, though the game has much deeper roots, stemming from the British sports of “quoits,” and even from the discus toss of Ancient Greece.

Vervaeke knows that he isn’t going to challenge Alan Francis anytime soon, though he takes obvious delight in the game. He swings the shoe back and forth several times as he lines up, tapping the sole of his left foot against the ground as he prepares to step into the shot. He’s even wrapped the right leg of his shorts to ensure that he doesn’t brush the cloth while playing.

But most of Sunday’s competitors weren’t as diligent in their routine. Instead, they pitched with abandon, joking as they threw, easily distracted by the scent of barbecuing burgers.

“We’re just here for a good time,” said Marj Thalen early in the day. It’s the company that matters most, said Parvu, and his wife, Flo, agreed. The two moved to Pelham seven years ago and joined a number of leagues, horseshoes included, so that they could meet new people. Parvu has organized the league for the past few years, and hopes to increase its number of members.

For the time being though, he was just pleased with how the day was going. He had already improvised a number of times to keep things running: in the absence of lighter fluid, he used a propane torch to light the charcoal BBQ, and when several players didn’t show, he shuffled the rosters just enough that everything worked out.

Thalen may have chafed at the idea that she had to compete, but by lunchtime she had been assigned a team and was out throwing shoes. By dinner, her team of Brian Mann and Brad Vaughan had out-pitched everyone else to win the championship.