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It’s A Ringer

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By: Stephen V.Smith

The sound of metal striking metal echoes through the woods. It’s a familiar sound, heard in backyards and public parks throughout Alabama, especially on weekends and holidays.

As is often the case, this clanging is accompanied by laughter and friendly conversation. A crowd of various ages, genders and races is gathered at a place called Jim’s Courts, participating in the traditional sport of horseshoe pitching.

An ancient recreational competition whose American roots go back to the founding of the country, horseshoe pitching is growing in popularity in Alabama. Younger people are becoming involved in tournament play, along with more women.

“It’s good exercise, and it’s a relatively cheap sport,” says Jim Harris, who owns Jim’s Courts on Lake Guntersville near Scottsboro.

Harris built a total of 11 regulation courts next to his home in the early 1990s, shortly after retiring from PPG Industries in nearby Huntsville. His courts are surrounded by trees. “I like the shade,” he smiles. Nearby, what was once a camper shed now houses indoor courts for play during cold or wet weather.

The passion Harris has for horseshoes began with a walk in the park.

“I was never around it,” Harris explains. “I was walking at Braham Springs Park in Huntsville one day in 1977 and saw some guys pitching. I got interested, and started playing with them.” In the following years, Huntsville hosted the World Tournament three times, bringing the best pitchers from around the globe to Alabama.

“When I saw those world-class pitchers, that’s when I really got sold on horseshoes” says Harris. Harris is secretary/treasurer of the Alabama Horseshoe Pitchers Association (AHPA). The group, chartered in 1964 by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America, seeks to promote organized horseshoe pitching at local and state levels. Jackie Gary of Albertville is the association’s president.

“This is a good, clean family sport,” says Gary, who pitched horseshoes growing up and has been pitching in tournaments for the past 12 to 14 years. “You can bring your momma, your sister, the preacher, and all the deacons,” he laughs.

Horseshoe pitching is a relatively simple sport that has changed little through the years. It involves throwing a metal horseshoe – a modified version of the device used to protect the hoofs of horses from wear and to improve traction of the animal – toward a stake some 40 feet away.

A game consists of two contestants, each taking turns pitching their two horseshoes towards a metal stake in the middle of a clay pit. The clay, which must be watered and turned before each game, stops the horseshoe where it hits. When the horseshoe comes to rest while encircling the stake, it is known as a “ringer.”

The Alabama association uses the cancellation scoring method. If the first pitcher scores a ringer (worth three points in tournament play), it can be cancelled by a ringer thrown by the second pitcher. One point is awarded for the closest horseshoe to the stake, provided it comes to rest within six inches of the stake. Forty points wins a game.

Throughout the spring and summer, the state association routes tournament play around courts in Gadsden,Huntsville, Montgomery, Eclectic, Lacey Springs, and Lake Guntersville. Although organized pitching in Alabama began in the southern part of the state, Montgomery is the southernmost tournament location today.

With its low cost of participation, competitive spirit, and family-friendly environment, it is no wonder horseshoe pitching is growing in popularity in Alabama. To learn more about the sport, visit http://www.alhorshoes.com/.