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Pitchin' shoes

Up to a dozen horseshoe pitchers show up year round for Tuesday morning practice sessions at Colver Park in Phoenix.

“Just two days of bad weather stopped the pitchers over the last year,” said Alan Ringo, tournament director for the Rogue Valley Pitchers. The club holds events in Phoenix and Grants Pass and is part of the Oregon Horseshoe Pitchers Association.

Todd Liles of Sams Valley is a defending state champion who practices regularly at Colver. He’s been pitching in backyards for 50 years and pitched competitively in the early 1980s.

“It’s been a lot of fun with family and friends,” said Liles.

Since retiring, Liles, 65, has resumed competition, which brings a different level of tension compared with backyard games, he said. He and others are available to help newcomers, but Liles thinks much of the technique can be self-taught.

“It’s a natural thing, really. You want to learn what your natural tendencies are,” said Liles.

Colver Park has 12 horseshoe courts. Each court has two pits with pegs that are 40 feet apart. The pits are 6-by-6-feet square, with concrete throwing walkways on both sides for the pitchers. Four of the courts have clay pits, while the others are a mix of decomposed granite and sand.

“Your best pitchers pitch in the clay,” said Ringo, adding that the shoes tend to bounce less on clay.

Most players are required to pitch from 40 feet away, but those in the "elders category," older than 70, throw from 30 feet. There are several different ways to pitch a shoe, but getting it around the peg is the goal. The pegs stand 16 inches above the cement walkways and are angled slightly forward.

“Everything you do is supposed to be centered on lining up with the peg,” said Ringo.

Scoring awards three points for a ringer and one point for having the closest shoe to the peg. Regular competitors have established ringer averages so that individuals of comparable skill compete against each other.

Besides having fun and getting exercise, tournaments offer winners a payout from the entry fees, which are usually $15 to $20.

Chuck Smith of Phoenix began pitching eight months ago after he came across a contest at Colver Park while there for a dog event. Smith spent $142 for two pairs of competition horseshoes, but he noted that used sets can be had for much less. At a recent tournament, he took first place in his category and walked away with $40.

The next tournaments for Oregon Horseshoe Pitchers Association members at Colver Park are Saturday and Sunday, June 4-5. The June 4 event will honor the late Ed Fogel, who was a four-time singles and two-time doubles state champion and a local tournament organizer. Rogue Valley Pitchers also holds open events where everyone is welcome. The next open event is at 10 a.m. Friday, June 10.

Practices are also held at 5:30 p.m. Mondays at Colver Park from April through October. Players can use the city-owned facility when the park is open.

Most regulars also have pits at their homes, and there are also courts in Rogue River, Ringo said. For information, call Ringo at 541-779-6867 or email him at avringo@charter.net.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gamil.com.

Jim Hinks, 77, of Medford, lines up a shot while playing horseshoes Tuesday at Colver Park in Phoenix. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Todd Liles, left, and Jim Hinks play horseshoes Tuesday at Colver Park in Phoenix. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch