Horseshoe club keeps rules of pitching shoes alive
The saying goes that “almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
At the pits
One of only 13 clubs in the state, the Bonner Springs Twister’s Horseshoe Club meets Tuesday nights at the horseshoe courts in Bonner Springs' South Park.
“That’s not really true,” Bernie VanLerberg, Bonner Springs, said.
That’s because with horseshoes, the “almost” is a very specific almost. If a horseshoe pitcher doesn’t get the shoe around the stake, known as a ringer, for three points, the pitcher can only earn a point if the shoe not only lands in the pit surrounding the stake — it must land within six inches of the stake.
A group based in Bonner is helping keep this knowledge and the game of horseshoes alive in the metro area. The Bonner Springs Twister’s Horseshoe Club meets at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday, April through October, at the South Park horseshoe courts. And because they are some of the only horseshoe courts in the Kansas City area, they draw members from all over the Kansas side of the metro.
The club has a lot of experienced members, like VanLerberg, who is a member of the Kansas Horseshoe Pitching Hall of Fame. There’s also those like Carl Phillips, 87, of Shawnee, who has been pitching since 1999.
“It’s the companionship and the interest,” he said of his reasons for keeping up with the sport.
“He said one time, ‘Horseshoe pitchers are nice people,’” his wife, Donna, added.
The Bonner club is one of just 13 in the state. Anthony Ridder serves as the president of the club, though he also happens to be vice president of the Kansas Horseshoe Pitchers Association.
The club members’ season is split in two, playing doubles games through the end of June and singles starting in July. Ridder said there are currently about 14 teams of doubles playing for the first half of the season.
The nearest courts in Kansas are in Topeka, Lawrence and Iola, so Bonner’s courts, installed in 1990 by locals Roy Mills, Dick Burns and Gene McGraw, are certainly unique.
“We’d like to have more courts so we can have the state tournament here, but you need 18 and we only have 12,” Ridder said.
The club also likes the clay pits at the courts. With clay surrounding the stakes, the horseshoes stick where they land, rather than sliding forward from the momentum of the throw as they might in a dirt or sand pit.
As Phillips exemplifies, the game is accessible for all ages. Men pitch shoes from 40 feet, while women, juniors and elders ages 70 and up pitch from 30 feet. Cadets ages 9 and under pitch from 20 feet.
Club members bring their own shoes, which can be as cheap as about $25 each or as expensive as Ridder’s Ted Allen-brand shoes, which were about $63 each since he bought a set of three — if you don’t get a discount for buying a set, he said, they are more like $70 a piece.
At each meeting, members pitch three games. During the doubles half of the season, club members pitch 30 shoes a game, and during singles, 40 shoes a game. They’ve already held a tournament on May 21, which brought about 20 players from as far away as Topeka and Wellsville, and their next is set for July 9.
Jan Lapour, Overland Park, joined the club about four years ago with her sister, Chris Hagger of Shawnee, and their husbands when they learned about it from one of Hagger’s co-workers, Betty Parker of Linwood. The sisters agreed that the camaraderie among the group is a big part of what has kept them involved.
“It’s just something relaxing and fun to do; it’s cheap entertainment,” Lapour said. “It’s not a competitive kind of thing, you just try to do better for yourself.”
For more information about joining the club, contact Ridder at 568-3426 or Gary Parker at (816) 289-7990.