In the pits, brawls are rare and the old folks are remarkably fit.
Sam Adame has been pitching horseshoes since he was 13, and often at tournaments where the competition is fierce and tempers sometimes flare. But he has witnessed only one fight in the throwing pits.
Two punches were thrown, he said, and he caught the second when he stepped between the two brawlers.
``I been to lots of tournaments,'' said Adame, 80. ``But I've only seen one physical fight. That was it.''
Adame's most recent tournament was Sept. 7 in Hutchinson, the annual state championship. He chalked up a 43.16 percent ringer rate, which means nearly half of the 2.5-pound horseshoes he threw 30 feet had their 3.5-inch open ends threaded on a 14-inch stake no larger than an inch in diameter.
``I won in my class,'' Adame said. ``And I've had two knee operations. I've been playing in tournaments for 36 years, but old age is catching up with me.''
Adame, who has been inducted into the Kansas Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame in Abilene, is a regular at the Broken Arrow Park horseshoe pits where most Thursday evenings, when the weather is right, he can be found among about eight fellow pitching regulars. Like Adame, most are older people who seem younger than their years.
Constant tossing and retrieving of the iron shoes helps account for the fitness and vigor, they said.
Another among the regulars is Kenneth Martin of Baldwin, president of the Kansas Horseshoe Pitchers Assn.
Martin has competed in six world championship horseshoe hurling tournaments, held this year in Ainsworth, Neb.
``This was my sixth try and my first trophy,'' said Martin, who took third place in one of various senior men's divisions.
``The call it world championship,'' Martin said. ``It's mostly U.S. and Canada, but also some Japanese and Scandinavians and others.''
The Kansas horseshoe throwing group has 198 members, Martin said, most of whom live in the vicinity of Lawrence or Ottawa. The group would like to recruit at least two more members, he said, that way it could qualify to send an additional delegate with the current Kansas pair that goes to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Assn. annual convention.
The national group maintains a database of tournament scores and ringer percentages for the country's competitive throwers. It also sets the rules of play.
On Oct. 10 in Topeka Martin will preside over horseshoe tryouts for the Senior Olympics.
In 1995, in San Antonio, Wynne Mihura, a 71-year-old Lawrence woman and regular at the Broken Arrow pits won a Senior Olympics bronze medal for her horseshoe pitching.
``It's the toughest sport I've ever done,'' Mihura said, ``and I've done sports all my life.''
But southpaw Charlie Pringle, 76, makes it look easy. He is a 67-percent ringer thrower who practices twice sometimes thrice a day.
``What's good about horseshoes is you can do it at any age,'' Pringle said.
``He's the best horseshoe pitcher in the county,'' said Adame. ``Horseshoe pitching attracts seniors, not juniors. Juniors want to play baseball and soccer. I don't blame them. But the time will come they won't be able to do that.''
Mihura said the sport also is good because of the sociable people it attracts.
``They're nice people,'' she said.
And when they are not, when the rare brawl breaks out, there are the consequences of Rule 7, Section B of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Assn. manual, which clearly forbids rudeness and other misconduct in and around the throwing pits:
``Any member of the National Horseshoe Pitching Assn. who indulges in heckling, unfair rooting or any other form of unsportsmanlike conduct against a fellow NHPA member may be expelled from the grounds,'' the rule reads.
Those interested in joining the group, which is open to those of all ages and skill levels from beginner to expert, should contact Mihura at 843-8450.
-- Mike Shields phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.