The Pitch of the Litter

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

Soldiers and civilians played horseshoes side by side in Lawrence, Kansas.  Image courtesy of KansasMemory, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Soldiers and civilians played horseshoes side by side in Lawrence, Kansas. Image courtesy of KansasMemory, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Whether you had regulation equipment or a stick shoved into the dirt, chances are that you’ve played horseshoes at some point in your life.

But did you know that some of the biggest developments in the sport have taken place right here in Kansas?

Back in 1909, the southeast Kansas town of Bronson hosted the first-ever world horseshoe tournament. And five years later, in 1914, Kansas City, Kansas, became home to the first governing body of horseshoe pitchers.

Kansas horseshoe pitchers will have a chance to make their mark on the sport again in July 2015, when Topeka plays host to the World Horseshoe Tournament.

With the tournament expected to draw as many as 1500 contestants from around the world, pitchers in Kansas know they’ve got an opportunity to share their love of the sport with future players and fans.

Dave Mathewson, a member of the Topeka 2015 World Horseshoe Tournament steering committee, hopes the event will grow the game in Kansas.

“Exposure to the non-horseshoe pitching part of the Kansas populations [could help] gain some interest in people that are looking for a lifetime sport,” Mathewson said.

Neil Hartwig, an 89-year-old horseshoe pitcher with the Riverside Horseshoe Club in Iola, agreed that the sport is good for players of all ages.

“It’s good exercise, but it isn’t strenuous,” Hartwig said.

A recreational player since his days in the Army, he’s pitched competitively for over a decade, and says it can be hard to get people interested when there are so many other sports opportunities out there. It’s one of the reasons he’s excited for the Topeka championship—and for the chance to compete, of course.

But while the competition is serious, with reputations and prize money at stake, the pitchers are opponents, not enemies.

“I would put comradery high on my reasons for going to the different tournaments,” Mathewson said. “Friends from all walks of life.”

Competition balanced with comradery?

That sounds like something Kansans know all about.

Update

Espn’s SportsCenter on the Road will be broadcasting live from the 2015 World Horseshoe Tournament on Saturday, July 18th. Click here for more information.