Throwing it to win it at Maryland’s horseshoe championship

Elbert Shifflett, defending horseshoe pitching state champion, competes Saturday in the second round of the state tournament in Frederick.(Graham Cullen/Frederick News-Post)

Horseshoe pitching is generally associated with a relaxing day at a backyard barbecue, but the competition was intense Saturday at Frederick’s Maryvale Park.

Competitors from across the state — including several of the best pitchers in the country — took part in the Maryland State Horseshoe Pitching Championship.

Diana Ratliff, secretary-treasurer of the Maryland Horseshoe Pitchers Association, said 54 competitors of all skill levels ranging from preteens to seniors in their 80s competed in the tournament.

The round robin competition was organized by classes based on percentage of ringers — that’s when the horseshoe wraps around the stake.

“Throwing 100 shoes, I have some who get 75 per game on average, and some that get two and a half,” Ratliff said.

The beauty of horseshoes is that it can be enjoyed by people of all ages and athletic abilities, she said.

“It is for all skill levels. You don’t have to be athletic. In our world tournament we just had a few weeks ago, Vicky, who’s out there pitching, sent me a picture of some guy in a wheelchair who was pitching in the (world championships),” she said.

Claudette Braswell, who splits her time between Upper Marlboro and Lake Wales, Fla., said she grew up competing with boys in a variety of sports, including horseshoes.

“Other sports came in first for a while,” she said. “When I hit my 60s, I signed up to pitch horseshoes in the Maryland Senior Olympics, and I got a gold medal,” said Braswell, who won the singles and doubles championship in her class in the 2010 state tournament.

Braswell said part of the allure of horseshoes is that it gets her outdoors.

“God made such a beautiful world, and when I’m out here and a breeze kisses my cheeks, all is right with the world,” she said. “And the people are extremely nice. They’re competitive, but they’re friendly.”

Devin Burns, 12, who won the junior championship, said the sport is a good way to spend quality time with his father, Barry Burns, who was also competing Saturday. But Devin said there was more to it than that.

“I like the competition,” he said.

Frederick resident Mike Blank — who won class C on Saturday — said he has been involved in horseshoes for about 35 years, starting out as a boy pitching with his dad. He said he pitches in an Elks Lodge league and enters the state championship from time to time when it’s in Frederick. But Blank said horseshoes is less about competition and more about enjoying a good time with friends.

“It’s the fellowship,” he said. “It’s a good time, and it’s relaxing. It’s a stress reliever, I call it.”

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