a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Guys who prefer horseshoes over Wii bowling

By Scott Beveridge

WASHINGTON, Pa. – It's been so long since a woman entered the competition at the Washington County Horseshoe Club that no one there can even remember her name.

And the men who hang out at this low-rent club don't seem to care that discrimination barriers are not being challenged or broken there nearly four decades after the Equal Rights Amendment became law. 

"When my wife came in one day, it was like a church," said Jason Conkle of Washington, Pa., who, at 32, is one of the youngest members of the club. 

Men from all walks of life – rich types, steelworkers, mechanics and farmers – join in these games three days a week inside the club's barn at Washington County Fairgrounds, its members say. 

The fair leases the place to the club with about 40 players and dwindling membership for $1,200 a year, member Albert "Dutch" Germeyer of McMurray said. 

This is a game requiring real-time skills and facing much cooler competition with the rapidly growing computer/video gaming industry. 

"When we were young, that's all there was to do," said Germeyer, 65. 

But, the highest-tech gadget in this barn is an old General Electric clock on one wall. The scores are kept on hand-turned dials, and members receive memos on a slate blackboard hanging on a wall. 

These guys also relieve themselves in an outhouse reached from a door at the back of the barn, and wash their hands in rainwater collected in a barrel from the roof. 

"There is no running water here," said Andy Roman of Burgettstown, who suffered one of the worst injuries tossing horseshoes in the club's history.

"I broke a toe," Roman, 75, said. "The horseshoe came off the peg and hit my big toe." 

Something more serious as fighting over a ringer will get players thrown out and suspended. 

That's rare here, though, where the friendships, comedy and food are more important than winning at shoes. 

The game is played using two pits on each end of the room, set apart a distance of 40 feet. Each pit holds a steel stake at its center that serves as the target. There are two teams of as many players, with each throwing two shoes per inning. A shoe encircling the stake, or a ringer, is worth three points. When there is no ringer, the person who tosses a horseshoe closest to the stake earns a point. 

On a recent spring night, the players are enjoying hot sausage sandwiches someone brought from home. For those who want something stronger than the coffee on the back shelf, it's OK to bring their own beer. 

That's about as fancy as it gets on any good night. 

This room is little more than a concrete floor with four cut-outs for the clay pits. A players' gallery lines one wall behind a counter, where the audience watches the competitions from plain wooden benches. 

A display of yellowing newspaper clippings is tacked to an opposing wall, reminders of the days before such inventions as Wii bowling helped to cause people to lose interest in this game. 

Thirty, 40 years ago there were seven or eight men in the Pittsburgh area who threw 80 ringers out of every 100 tosses, Germeyer said. 

"Now there are only two guys in the world who are that good," he said. "It's a dying sport." 

The competition isn't all that important these days, said Joe Tokarski of McDonald. 

"You'll have guys who enjoy the game every bits as much as the comedy," Tokarski said. 

"I come here after work to unwind," added Drew Koteles, 56, who owns a Finleyville auto service garage. "This is my therapy."

This article originally appeared in the Observer-Reporter newspaper, Washington, Pa.


Amanda Blu said...

Awesome narrative, my friend. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I like this, Scott. You put me there--Neese