It’s a high-stakes horseshoe game.
There are men who build horseshoe pits in their backyards so they can practice all year for this one match in Lawrence’s Broken Arrow Park.
There’s a 72-year old man known as Uncle Martin, a Grade A horseshoe trash-talker, who comes all the way from San Antonio for the match.
This year, there will be nearly 60 men drawn to the pits. There will be brothers against brothers, cousins against cousins, uncles against nephews, and every combination in between.
Those stakes are high enough, but there’s a pairing that takes it to an even higher level: Father versus son. There are about a half-dozen of those pairings, and don’t think for a second that just because it’s Father’s Day weekend that there will be any slack cut in those rivalries.
Just the opposite. Fathers have had this date circled on their calendars for quite awhile.
“I can still beat them in horseshoes,” Gabriel Chavez, 47, says of his two late twenty-something sons who compete in the event. “That’s where I can remind them that the old man still has a little bit left in the tank. And when I beat one of them, I can still call him a kid.”
Being able to have a kid again on Father’s Day weekend: The stakes don’t get much higher than that.
Horseshoe pitching is just part of the fun that took place Saturday. Members of Lawrence’s Chavez family gathered at both Broken Arrow and Centennial parks to compete in six events over seven hours: A home run derby, a hot shot basketball competition, horseshoes, bowling, a pool tournament and a dart tournament. They use nearby facilities at Royal Crest Lanes and The Pool Room for some of the events.
The entire event, now in its eighth year, is the brainchild of Lawrence resident Anthony Chavez, one of Gabriel’s six brothers. Appropriately enough it is called Brothers Olympics because it all got started when Anthony and some of his other brothers realized they didn’t get together to play as often as they used to. Coming from a home where their parents, John and Loretta Chavez, had nine children in 10 years, closeness is something that had become expected.
Although the name Brothers Olympics has stuck, over the years it has become obvious that the father-son connections had become just as important.
“We realized that Father’s Day seemed to be the weekend that most resembles what we are trying to accomplish,” Anthony says.
So that’s the weekend everyone now gears up for. Anthony has T-shirts printed and pint glasses engraved. The post Olympic barbecue/family reunion at Centennial Park, which draws more than 150 family members, normally includes the roasting of an entire hog and a performance by a mariachi band.
Whether anyone hears the band over all the story-telling about the day’s competitions is another matter. Perhaps the only time there is more talking is during the events themselves.
“Oh, you definitely try to get into the other guy’s head,” Anthony says with a laugh.
But Anthony says the hallmark of the event is “lots of handshakes and hugs.” That is what he was hoping for when he came up with the idea.
“It is about brotherhood,” Anthony says. “It is about being tight. For one day, on one weekend, you just get rid of all the B.S. and all the other distractions and you just be who you are — family.”
But yes, it is still a competition. The competitors, all male, are between the ages of 18 and 72 this year. You can imagine that none of them has losing very high on a list of things to do this weekend.
Losing to one man in particular certainly doesn’t top any lists: Uncle Martin, the 72-year-old.
“All the guys who compete here will tell you he is the one we don’t want to lose to,” Anthony says with a laugh. “He talks the most trash. Hands down.”
Mike Wenger also might be high on a list of people who competitors don’t want to lose to at this year’s event. He’s a two-time champion of the olympics, and he was set to gun for No. 3 with extra gusto this weekend.
For Wenger, the stakes are a little bit higher this year. For the first time, he and his 32-year old son are on the same team. Anthony divides the nearly 60 competitors into about 20 teams of three via a random drawing a few days before the event.
“That’s going to be special,” Wenger said beforehand.
Sure, a dinner with your child, a good conversation over a book of old photos or any number of other activities can also be special this Father’s Day weekend. The Chavez family knows it could come together without the competition and without the sport, but they’ve become convinced that maybe the Greeks were onto something when they created the idea of a brotherly event centered around athletics.
“It is like when you are on a golf course with someone, you are in a different frame of mind than if you were just sitting with that same person having a meal,” Gabriel says. “There is more ribbing, sure, but there is also more camaraderie.”
For fathers and sons, the act of coming together either as competitors or teammates might be a good exercise for the memory too. Many fathers are blessed to have had frequent opportunities to play with their children as they grow up: Games of catch, water balloon fights, hide and seek. But ask any father of a certain age, and he’ll tell you the games eventually fade way. Life dictates that all play dates end.
But they don’t have to end forever. The Chavez family proves every Father’s Day weekend that fathers and their children can still come together to play, to hug, to win.
That, of course, brings up a question. Who won? I don’t know. You see, I’m a father too, so I didn’t spend my day with the Chavezes. My Saturday plans included a campground with my son. There’s a horseshoe pit there where I can watch him sling iron shoes, and I can call him ‘kid.’
Dads, I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of high stakes game I enjoy: The kind where I can’t lose.
Happy Father’s Day.
— Each Sunday, Lawhorn’s Lawrence focuses on the people, places or past of Lawrence and the surrounding area. If you have a story idea, send it to Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.