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August 01, 2013 8:35 am

Horseshoe pitchers aim to ‘keep tradition alive’

Written by Tom Lawrence

Billy Brewer (left) who claimed first in the singles’ competition Friday, talks about the most effective way to hold a shoe while chatting with Brad Samuels. Billy Brewer (left) who claimed first in the singles’ competition Friday, talks about the most effective way to hold a shoe while chatting with Brad Samuels. Tribune photos by Tom Lawrence

Tossing horseshoes is an ancient game, with some researchers saying Greek soldiers played a version of it in their camps 2,000 years ago.

The game was popularized in America during the Civil War, as soldiers tossed discarded muleshoes at targets to pass the time between battles and marches. By the early 20th century horseshoes was widespread across the nation, as players found the sport a welcome way to pass the time and connect with their rural roots.

 

 

Horseshoes has been a popular game in Wyoming for decades, but in recent years fewer people are have been playing, according to Gene Shuler of rural Powell.

Shuler organized the annual horseshoe-pitching competition at the Park County Fair last weekend. A total of 28 people competed on Friday and Saturday afternoons, and Shuler teamed with Tom Shuman to win the doubles competition Saturday.

“Best turnout we’ve had for a while,” Shuler said.

He would like to see more people pick up a horseshoe and play. Jim Ruffing, 76, of Worland, who played in the tourney, agrees.

Ruffing, who is related to the late “Red” Ruffing, a Hall of Fame pitcher who starred for the New York Yankees in the 1930s, started playing horseshoes on a regular basis four years ago.

On Friday, as he warmed up for the singles competition, he hit ringer after ringer. He teamed with D J Shuman to earn third in the doubles competition.

“I played a little before,” Ruffing said. “It’s a good game.”

Shuler played in a Powell horseshoe league for several years.

“I’ve been playing horseshoes since I quit playing softball,” he said. “About 1990 or so. We used to have a real competitive softball team, but as the players got old, we started getting hurt and were just too old to keep playing. So I started playing horseshoes.”

Shuler said at its peak, there were 10 to 15 regular pitchers in the Powell league, but that number dwindled and the league folded. Now, players focus on tourneys, both sanctioned ones and casual events sponsored by bars and other businesses and organizations.

Most county fairs sponsor horseshoe tournaments, he said, and a lot of players travel through the region for a chance to toss their shoes, which weigh a little more than 2 pounds, at the stakes set 40 feet apart. A tourney is set for Saturday afternoon in Basin during the Big Horn County Fair.

Worland is now hosting sanctioned tourneys and the state tournament will be held there this month. Powell does host a sanctioned tournament, which was held on the first weekend in June this year, Shuler said.

He said he doesn’t think the sport is a lost cause.

“I think it’s up and down,” Shuler said. “But we like to keep playing.”

Billy Brewer, a Powell native who now lives in Cody, won the singles tourney and teamed with Rick Barrus to take fourth in doubles. Brewer said he wants to see more people pick up a shoe and take a shot at the game.

“We’re trying to keep the tradition alive,” he said.

Brad Samuels, who finished second in the singles and teamed with Roger Templin to earn second in the doubles, has been playing for nearly 20 years.

He started playing on camping trips, and now enjoys a chance to compete in tournaments. The play was spirited, as ringer after ringer was recorded.

“I think everybody kinda gets fired up for the fair,” Shuler said. “They were throwing pretty well.”

There were eight pitchers in Friday’s singles competition. Here are the placers:

1: Billy Brewer

2: Brad Samuels

3: Rick Barrus

4: Jim Polluck

There were 10 teams in the Saturday doubles competition. Placers were:

1. Gene Shuler/Tom Shuman

2. Roger Templin/Brad Samuels

3. Jim Ruffing/D J Shuman

4. Rick Barrus/Billy Brewer

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