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Archive for Sunday, July 8, 1990

SHOES IN THE PARK

July 8, 1990

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Chink. Chink. Chink.

Big steel horseshoes wrap 'round a non-descript steel stake sunk in blue clay at the South Park horseshoe courts.

The players sweat in the sweltering afternoon heat, and pour more water on the special clay that keeps the shoes from bouncing when they land. In the hot breeze, the clay dries out fast.

Members of the Lawrence Horseshoe Club gather on the east side of South Park several afternoons a week to toss their favorite shoes, barring driving rains or bitter cold. Some are 60-year veterans of the game; others have played only a year or two.

The club formally organized in 1988 and listed 23 names on its roster last year, but secretary John Dreiling said not that many "regulars" show up at the park.

About a dozen came last Monday to limber up their arms and test the accuracy of their pitches, despite temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

THE YOUNGEST of the regulars are in their 30s, but three boys, 11- and 12-year-old baseball players, joined the ranks that day.

"We're trying to get our youth interested in this game," explained club president Sam Adame, 72, "because it's a game of concentration."

He observed that the reigning men's world horseshoe pitching champion is a 19-year-old, Alan Francis of Blythedale, Mo.

Adame noted that Francis also plays basketball, for Northwest Missouri State University, and hits 86 percent of his free throws a measure of the concentration power he developed playing horseshoes.

Ever the recruiter, Adame told the boys his own grandson, well-versed in horseshoes, and two friends about Francis and suggested horseshoes could do the same for them with respect to baseball.

The young trio are the most recent recruits in the game's long local history.

LAWRENCE, and Kansas, can claim something of a horseshoe playing tradition, according to secretary Dreiling, 42. One-time state champions Roland Kraft and Alvin Dahlene, both now dead, can be counted among local players of note.

Current members Adame and Wesley Schendel also have gained statewide recognition. Adame was selected for the Kansas Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame in 1984, and has a Topeka tournament named after him, the Sam Adame Open.

Schendel won the Class A traveling trophy at the 1984 Topeka Regional Tournament, which included seven counties, with a 74.8 ringer average. That average means 74 of 100 of Schendel's pitches put the horseshoe around the stake that day.

The late Roland Kraft, who called both Lawrence and Lecompton "home," was state horseshoe champion from 1947 to '49 and from 1955 to '61, and Dahlene, also deceased, held the title in 1941 and '42, Dreiling said.

SEVERAL OF the local club members, including Charlie Pringle and Paul Penny, knew Kraft.

Pringle, who is "almost 70," plays with a set of shoes the champ gave him, and Penny remembers Kraft as a mail carrier in Lecompton.

As far as the state goes, Dreiling and Adame noted, Kansas has played an even more significant role in the development of the sport of horseshoe pitching.

Adame noted the first national horseshoe competition is thought to have been at Bronson, in 1909, and Dreiling pointed out that a June article in The National Horseshoe Pitcher's Assn.'s magazine, Newsline, told of an Ottawa team of four men who issued a horseshoe pitching challenge of some note in 1905.

That challenge was accepted by a Kansas City, Mo. team, the article reported, and the Missouri team won, 447 to 444 points.

In that competition, a ringer counted 3 points, a leaner 2, and any shoe within six inches of the stake, which was only 2-inches high then, counted 1. The stakes were 38 feet apart.

TODAY, STAKES are 12 to 14-inches high, 40 feet apart for men and 30 feet for women and players 17 and younger. Ringers count 3 points and anything else within six inches of the stake, 1.

Players can both gain and lose points throughout the game, which usually goes to a score of 21 points. For example, one player makes a ringer, gaining 3 points, but then his or her opponent makes a ringer, and that cancels out the first player's 3 points.

Other Kansas horseshoe "firsts" on record include the 1914 chartering of the Grand League of the American Horseshoe Pitchers Assn. in the 1st District Court in Kansas City, Kan., the first organization to oversee U.S. horseshoe-pitching competitions.

The late Ted Allen of Boulder, Colo., a Kansas native, remains the top world tournament all-time victory leader with 10 championships to his name.

DREILING added that the April issue of Newsline reported Kansas City, Mo., had placed a bid to host the 1992 World Tournament, which will draw a number of world-class pitchers to this area. Nationally, he said, membership in the horseshoe pitcher's association, about 12,000 now, has nearly doubled in the last decade.

In 1948, he said, Lawrence hosted its first and so far, last state tournament in the same spot where the club now plays, and Schendel, now 77, played in that tournament.

He said he grew up playing horseshoes on his father's farm in the Clearfield area south of Eudora, and placed eighth in the '48 competition.

"Ralph Kampschroeder put it on," he said, "and he came out 12th."

Schendel also noted that a portion of the Lawrence courts were north of their present site for the '48 tournament, about where North Park Street now passes between the park and the Lawrence Judicial and Law Enforcement Building.

CHANGES ARE afoot again where Lawrence's horseshow courts are concerned, club members said. Adame explained that the group is working with city officials to get 18 new courts built in Broken Arrow Park.

With that many, he said, Lawrence could again host a state tournament, although 36 courts are required of any city hosting a world meet.

He said that despite the absence of large tournaments in town, the club regularly sponsors informal competitions.

The men said they're also hoping for lights at the new courts, which would allow night games when cooler temperatures prevail. Lights at the present courts don't work, precluding the more desirable night play there.

Although pitching horseshoes doesn't look too physical, it's easy to work up a sweat playing the game on a hot day, and several of the men said they do play for exercise as well as enjoyment.

THE SPECIALLY made horseshoes each weigh about 2 pounds, but they've never even been close to a real horse's hoof.

According to Adame, the game probably originated in Greece with Roman soldiers, who pitched horseshoes worn out by their army's battle steeds.

Today's pitching shoes, however, are more finely crafted than those nailed to hooves, which often have metal burrs than can injure a player's hands.

The special pitching shoes also are made to fit regulation measurements, which preclude matches pitting Shetland-size against Clydesdale-size shoes.

Despite the seeming uniformity, though, Dreiling said, "There's quite a variety in styles and balance of shoes."

He noted good players bring their own pair to a match.

Pringle, who has played the last year and a half after a 20-year haitus from the game, said, "If you swing a few times, you get the feel of the shoe. Get one that fits your hand and you're comfortable with, and throw 15 to 30 minutes a day.

"You don't get very good very easy."

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