Yesterday I made the trek down to East Hartford, CT for the Norm Rioux Open horseshoe tournament. The event was held at the Central Connecticut Horseshoe Club facility, which is quite a unique establishment. The CCTHC is an indoor pitching venue tucked away in an industrial nook of East Hartford. To say the place is unassuming would be an understatement, but it is a haven for serious horseshoe pitchers who want to stay active through the winter. The club hosts league play five nights a week from October through May. In fact, according to the club’s website, the courts are open seven days a week from 10.1 through 5.1. This level of participation is quite impressive, and is part of the reason I didn’t mind driving for a few hours to play there.
Neither the club, nor the players disappointed yesterday. The competition, as I expected, was tough. My group, Class H, was scheduled to start at 12:00 noon, and I arrived a few hours early. This allowed me to meet a few of the club members, including Tournament Director, Don Maine. I grabbed a sandwich across the street at the Greatful Deli. As luck would have it, I had a bye on my fourth game, which provided an excellent opportunity for a lunch break.
The previous group finished up a little bit early, which gave me an opportunity to throw some shoes and get used to the indoor courts. One adjustment I found that I had to make was stepping up a bit further in the box to throw. You’ll see in the photo above that there is a section of fence directly behind each pit. The fence is necessary because of the space constraints in the building and the fact that players need a protected place to stand between pitches. Normally I stand behind the stake a bit on the left hand side. I was confounded to find that my shoe was hitting the chain link fence on my backswing. This was corrected easily by stepping up about a foot closer. It was nice to have a chance to work this kink out before the competition started.
Before I get into the play by play, I should also point out an unusual feature of the CCTHC, which is the scoring. They tout the club as the “home of computerized scoring”. There is a scorer’s perch accessed by stairs and situated one level above the pits. Two scorers, each equipped with computers, receive the scores from the players after each inning. Practically speaking, this means that each scorer is keeping track of up to three games at once. The system works quite well, but it means that each player has to follow the correct protocol when reporting to the scorekeeper. As an example, if I were playing a game and got a ringer plus a point, I would make eye contact with the scorekeeper and report “ringer 4”. There is a monitor at the end of each court that is updated in real time with the players’ names, scores, and ringer percentages. It is a great feature, as long as you keep focused on pitching shoes and don’t get sidetracked by your ringer percentage.
Despite my warm up, I started off very slow. I think it was the sixth or seventh frame before I got a ringer. This allowed my opponent to build up a pretty comfortable lead. I did rebound and pitch a pretty good game, but my comeback wasn’t strong enough, as I dropped the first game 35 to 25. The game format was such that games went to 35 points or 50 shoes, whichever came first. I won my second game, although I was a bit off my average. My opponent had an off game as well, otherwise it probably would have ended differently. I had my best game in the fifth match, where I pitched 44%, which is a personal best for me. I almost finished at .500, but I lost my last game on the very last shoe, when my opponent threw a ringer to squeak out a win, 29 to 28. I knew I needed a ringer with my last two shoes, and I just missed high on my last shoe. So it goes. I finished with a record of 2 wins and 4 losses.
I ended up shooting 29.58% for the day, which is roughly 2 points above my average. I really liked playing indoors, after a fashion. It has a distinctly different feel. I found that even the acoustics came into play, with a very satisfying ‘clink’ when a shoe is buried on the stake just right. I plan on returning to the CCTHC a few more times over the winter.
What does Knoxville, TN have to do with it? Not much, except I found out from a fellow player yesterday that the 2012 World Horseshoe Tournament will be held there. I would love to attend, but we’ll see what happens. The New England Championship, held in Keene, NH, will be celebrating its’ 75th anniversary next year, so that’s something to think about as well.