Keeping an eye on the prize
Horseshoes provide fun, competition for families
On a sizzling summer evening, Kaiti Reeves demonstrated the form that made her a champion. She wrinkled her sunburned nose, drew her arm back, leaned to the right, and sent a horseshoe sailing through the air. With a clink, it hit the stake.
“That’s a ringer,” she said.
The 16-year-old Shadle Park High School student is the Washington state Girls Junior horseshoe champion. Quite an accomplishment since she’s only played for a little over a year.
“I took the state championship from a girl who’d been playing since she was 10,” Reeves said.
While league pitching is new to her, the backyard version of the game is one of her childhood memories. “We always played horseshoes when we went camping,” she said.
When her dad and brother joined the Spokane Horseshoe Pitching Association, she started practicing with them on Wednesday evenings at Franklin Park. “I just find it fun,” she said. “You constantly challenge yourself to do better.”
Soon, her whole family became involved. Reeves’ dad, Mike Watcher, is the club vice president, and her mother, Cindy Reeves, is the tournament director. That family appeal is what keeps Watcher involved. “A lot of kids are involved in sports at school,” he said. “Most of the time you’re on the sidelines, but this is something you can do with them. It’s a blast!”
It must be fun to draw folks from 5 to 84 out of their air-conditioned homes and into the park on a scorching July evening. Wearing their bright red club shirts, the group divided into pairs and spread out over the 24 horseshoe pits in the neatly maintained, fenced area. The group even has its own clubhouse. One of the founding members, Earl Kettleson, found a shady spot beneath a tree and kept score for two pairs of players. He said the club has been in existence for 49 years.
Club president Jeanette McCarthy said, “Horseshoes is a lot bigger than people in this town realize.” The group hosts four tournaments a year, drawing people from across the state.
“We’re always looking for new members,” McCarthy said.
The group’s motto is “Bringing families together for old-fashioned fun,” and McCarthy’s family is a prime example. Her husband, son and young grandsons were all present and pitching shoes. McCarthy’s 11-year-old son, J.T., is the Washington state Boys Junior B champion.
Despite the youngsters involved, McCarthy worries about the future of horseshoes. “I wish more people would play,” she said. “It’s kind of a dying sport. A lot of our members are elderly.”
She might take comfort that the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America reports more than 15 million enthusiasts play in the U.S. and Canada. July 27 through Aug. 8, the organization will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the World Horseshoe Pitching Championships in Springfield, Ill. Kaiti Reeves and her dad had hoped to go, but the trip proved to be too expensive. However, club member and past president Jeff Saunders will attend.
Saunders has played horseshoes since he was 11, but this is the first time the 42-year-old has gone to the World Championships. He comes from a long line of horseshoe pitchers, and his 8- and 10-year-old sons play.
“The most wonderful thing about the sport is it’s the only sport that every member of the family, young and old, can play competitively,” he said. “It’s the most fair sport on the planet and probably one of the most unrecognized.”
In addition to including people of all ages, Saunders advocates including people of all abilities. He instigated a program through Spokane Parks and Recreation to include developmentally disabled adults in their Spokane Horseshoe Pitchers Wednesday evening gatherings. It’s a big hit, but Saunders envisions even more. “This is just the first step. Hopefully we can include the sport in the Washington state Special Olympics.”
He’s enjoyed watching Kaiti Reeves’ progress. “When she first started she could barely hit the pit – now she’s kicking her dad’s butt!”
Reeves will defend her state title in Burlington, Wash., in September. “I intend to play as long as I can,” she said. “I really enjoy it.”