Horseshoe pitching is rapidly become a lost art that few practice, but those who still play the game remain passionate about it.
On Monday, a group of local horseshoe pitchers showed up at the four horseshoe pits at Gaiser Park on Seymour’s south side to compete in an event first conducted in the summer of 1966.
The annual Jackson County Horseshoe Tournament draws mainly older men, but that’s something organizer Glenn Hollin of Paris Crossing hopes to change one player at a time.
The former Seymour resident, who has been organizing the tournament for the past 13 or 14 years, made a step in that direction by inviting his 12-year-old neighbor, Connor Klemp, to come and compete.
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Klemp, who was throwing for the first time Monday, said he found it fun.
“It’s challenging,” he said.
Klemp said the Hollins have been helping him learn the game.
His secret for getting better?
“You just have to practice and just focus on the stake and aim,” Klemp said.
He said after getting his first taste of the game, he’s going to try it more often.
Leroy Salmon, who hasn’t missed any of the 50 Jackson County tournaments, said he can remember a day when horseshoe pitching was so popular that you had to wait in line to even get on one of the four courts at Gaiser Park.
“When I would get off work, I would come here because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t get in here to pitch all night,” the Seymour resident said. “That’s how many people where throwing. That was every night.”
Salmon remains one of the top horseshoe pitchers in the area with a ringer percentage of about 52 percent. That means that for every horseshoe he throws in a game, half of them will be ringers.
“It’s a lot better since I moved up,” the 77-year-old said.
A traditional horseshoe court is 40 feet long, but older and younger players, such as Klemp, are allowed to shorten that gap to the opposite pit to 30 feet.
Salmon, who began throwing horseshoes when he was kid, said as long as he can pitch 50 percent or better, he’s happy.
“I’ve lived on a farm, and we would throw regular horseshoes,” he said. “When I came up here (to the park), I didn’t know what a horseshoe was. I had never seen these and didn’t know what those big, heavy things were.”
True horseshoes are smaller and weigh less.
Over the years, Salmon managed to win three state tournaments and also traveled to four world tournaments.
“I never won one (a world title), but my son (Owen Salmon) won one,” he said.
Curt Dunn of Jonesville said he has participated in the Jackson County tournament and the Oktoberfest tournament several times.
“It has been a few years,” the 62-year-old said. “We kind of got out of it for a while, and now, we are getting back into it again.”
He said he and his brother and one of their friends used to throw three nights a week in Brownstown, Jonesville, North Vernon and Seymour, usually in the summer and fall.
Dunn said bean-bag toss has about knocked horseshoe pitching out of it for a while.
“But now it’s coming back,” he said. “This is just a little bit harder than (bean-bag toss). (Horseshoes are) a little bit heavier, and there’s not too much luck to it.”
Dunn said he just loves throwing horseshoes because it’s nice and relaxing.
Getting better at horseshoes requires lots of practice, he said.
“The good guys throw a hundred shoes a night,” Dunn said.
Seymour is sort of a focal point of horseshoe pitching in south central Indiana, said John Wellson, who lives in the Houston area.
In fact, four of the eight tournaments sanctioned by the Indiana District of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America this year have been conducted in Seymour, Wellson said. Two of the other tournaments were in Jasper with the other two in Vincennes and Richmond.
The county tournament is not sanctioned, said Wellson, who is regional director of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America.
He said competitive horseshoe pitching needs some younger players, such as Klemp, or some middle-aged men and women.
Wellson, who has been around horseshoe pitching for more than a quarter of a century, said it’s harder on the body over time than bean-bag toss.
Hollin agreed, saying it can be hard on the arm and shoulder over time to throw a 2-pound, 10-ounce horseshoe.