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Ancient Art Of Horseshoe Pitching Attracts New Interest

July 20, 1989

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) _ Ringers are sounding everywhere in this picturesque northern Black Hills town where the 1989 World Horseshoe Tournament is being held.

Iron clangs morning till evening as almost 1,500 people from the United States and Canada compete in the pastime that’s enjoying new popularity because President Bush enjoys it and even plays at the White House.

Horseshoe contestants sporting colorful, lettered shirts similar to those bowlers wear are everywhere in this town of about 5,000 people. Motels are full, and many players and their families are staying in cities as far as 40 miles away.

The two-week tournament features $73,450 in prize money.

″It’s an old-timers’ sport that’s having a new revival,″ said Bob Champion, publicist for the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association.

The 16,000-member group has grown considerably in the past few years, he said.

″There’s a pitcher in every town someplace,″ Champion said. ″Anybody can get into it regardless of how old you are.″

Horseshoe pitching originated with soldiers in ancient Greece who used discarded horseshoes for sport, imitating discus throwing at the Olympian Games; more than 30 million people now pitch horseshoes in tournaments or in city parks and backyards, according to the organization.

Although the average age of horseshoe pitchers is about 45, entrants in the tourney range from 7 to 88, said Gene Ficek, a Spearfish resident and horseshoe player who helped organize the event.

The sport is relaxing and tosses together a good mix of camaraderie and competition, Ficek said. But he said horseshoe pitching at the tournament level can be physically grueling.

″In a tournament, you’ll probably walk 2 1/2 miles and throw a ton of iron,″ Ficek said.

Horseshoes weigh either 2 pounds, 8 ounces or 2 pounds, 10 ounces, Ficek said. They are tossed 40 feet by men and 30 feet by women and those under 17.

Ficek’s wife, Yvonne, who also throws horseshoes, said the competition sometimes gets tense. ″Especially if you need that last ringer to win and they keep topping every horseshoe you put on the stake,″ Mrs. Ficek said.

A ringer, when the points of a horseshoe encircle a steel stake in a clay or sand pit, counts as 3 points. One point is awarded when a horseshoe lands within 6 inches of the stake.

Two people compete in a game by throwing two horseshoes each to the other end of the court. They then walk to the stake and tally points before repeating throws to the opposite pit. The first to get 40 points is the winner.

Ted Traversie, 70, said he took up the sport 15 years ago when his doctor urged him to get some exercise. He said he practices three hours daily.

″You can’t teach nobody how to throw a horseshoe,″ Traversie said. ″It has to feel natural to you.

Traversie said he was disappointed that Bush, who was invited to attend the championship event, couldn’t make it.

″He should have at least showed up and throwed a couple of shoes,″ Traversie said.

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