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December 20, 2014

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Las Vegan out to be shoo-in as world champ

Walter Ray Williams

Chad Hyatt, who will represent Las Vegas in this week's National Horseshoe Pitchers Association championships in Oklahoma, also is the proud owner of a 234 bowling average in the Monday Night Teachers league at Sam's Town. But when it comes to tossing bowling balls and horseshoes, nobody does it better than Walter Ray Williams.

Williams is the all-time money winner on the Pro Bowlers Association Tour and was crowned PBA Player of the Year six times.

He also has won six world horseshoe pitching titles and finished second as recently as 2005.

You can purchase instructional videos on both of his specialties on his Web site. Curiously, Williams bowls right-handed but pitches horseshoes with his left, as the original President Bush discovered when he invited Williams to pitch at the White House.

Hyatt said Williams just might be the best ambassador for horseshoes since Wilbur Post in "Mister Ed." Although you can drink a beer while playing either sport, that isn't the only similarity between rolling strikes and pitching ringers.

"Focus and concentration," Hyatt said. "Same delivery. Same follow-through."

Don Weaver

Don Weaver, a retired U.S. marshal who took up horseshoes after retiring from law enforcement - his doctor said it might help his aching back - is considered the father of Las Vegas horseshoes.

In 1981 the Nevada native formed the first local horseshoes club and supervised the construction of nine sanctioned courts still in use. Two years later he was appointed NHPA Regional Director for Nevada and still holds that position.

During his second career, as a casino executive, Weaver brought national horseshoes tournaments to the old Hacienda, the Showboat and the San Remo. When they went away he purchased a horseshoes tournament in a box - a 20-foot trailer equipped with portable courts that let Weaver take his really big shoe(s) on the road.

For his service and dedication to the sport, Weaver will be inducted into the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association Hall of Fame during this week's world championships in Oklahoma.

Weaver, 80, said horseshoes has changed with advancements in technology, but once you strip away the aluminum alloys and computer-driven scoring systems, today's horseshoes is pretty much your father's horseshoes. And your grandfather's horseshoes.

In other words, you can you still drink an adult beverage or two while meeting a friend for life at a friendly game.

"If you couldn't, I wouldn't stay in the club," Weaver said.

It is 9 on a hot and muggy Las Vegas morning when Chad Hyatt, a third grade teacher at Sandy Searles Miller Elementary Academy for International Studies, wraps a sweaty palm around a horseshoe and tosses it the length of the clay pit at Jaycee Park.

The U-shaped hunk of metal hangs in the air like one of Spaceman Lee's curveballs before turning ever so slightly and returning to Earth with the resounding clang a horseshoe makes when it snuggles up to the stake.

It's a sound the breakfast crew at the nearby Burger King grows accustomed to during the next quarter hour. I lose track of how many ringers Hyatt throws , but it's a lot easier to count his misses.

Two.

Hyatt tosses horseshoes the way Rick Barry shot free throws, which explains why he'll represent Las Vegas in this week's World Horseshoe Pitching Championships in Ardmore, Okla.

It'll be the 11th time the Indianapolis native, who has been pitching since he was 9, has qualified for the finals. His best finish in the championship division was 13th, and having watched him toss ringers, I find it hard to believe there are 12 guys who can do this better than him.

You ought to see Alan Francis pitch 'em, Hyatt says. Hyatt practically grew up tossing horseshoes with Francis, who hails from Defiance, Ohio, but hasn't beaten him since Mister Ed was a colt.

Hyatt said his ringer percentage in the big tournaments is actually closer to 64 or 65 percent, not the 98 or so he exhibited during our photo shoot. But for every 100 shoes Francis throws, about 90 wind up wrapped around a stake 40 feet away.

In a recent tuneup tournament in Illinois, Francis beat Hyatt 42-0. When I asked Hyatt whether there is a word in the horseshoes vernacular for that, he said, yeah, there was.

"He pretty much skunked me," he said.

The basics

The National Horseshoe Pitchers Association is the recognized governing body of the official sport of horseshoe pitching.

History

Camp followers of the Grecian armies, who could not afford the discus, took discarded horseshoes, set up a stake and began throwing horseshoes at it. Historians have not been able to discover when the game of quoits, or horseshoes, was changed so that it was pitched at two stakes. But it is thought that horseshoe pitching had its origin in the game of quoits and that quoits is a modification of the old Grecian game of discus throwing.

The first ruling body of horseshoes pitching was organized in the First District Court in Kansas City, Kan., on May 16, 1914.

It is estimated that 15 million enthusiasts enjoy pitching horseshoes in the United States and Canada in tournaments, leagues, recreation areas and back yards.

Tournament Play

Scoring

A ringer is a thrown when the horseshoe completely encircles the stake. Disputes are settled by using a straight edge to touch the two points at the ends of the horseshoe, called "heel calks." If the straight edge doesn't touch the stake, then the horseshoe is a ringer.

The nearest horseshoe to the stake within 6inches counts as 1 point. If both of one player's horseshoes are closer than the opponent's, that player scores 2 points. A ringer scores 3 points. A leaner - where a horseshoe literally leans on the stake - is worth 1 point in pro horseshoes. In amateur games, a leaner usually counts for 2 points.

Most games are played to 21. The winner must win by 2.

Glossary

The pit: a rectangular area - usually filled with dirt, sand, sawdust or some other filler substance - in the center of which the stake is placed

Leaner: when a horseshoe touches the stake, but does not encompass it

Double ringer: when both horseshoes encompass the stake

Pitching: the technical term for throwing a horseshoe

Inning: each time all players on each team have pitched

On the Web

Ron Kantowski can be reached at 259-4088 or at [email protected]

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