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FULTON COUNTY FAIR

AUG. 29-SEPT. 4, 2008


In 1958, at the suggestion of a young Fulton County Fair Board member named Jim Figy, the Fair added a horseshoe-pitching tournament to its lineup.

The tournament was so popular that just one year later it gave rise to the Fulton County Horseshoe Club, which has since run the Fair’s annual pitching competitions.

“Back then [in 1958] the fair board was looking for new ideas for the fair,” recalls Jim, who, with George Smith, is one of just two remaining charter members of the club.

“Advertising (about the horseshoe pitching tournament) in the local newspaper and the fair premium book generated a great deal of interest, and on the first day of the tournament, spectators were two and three deep around the fence to watch the Fulton County Championship, a sudden death competition.”

The horseshoe tournaments rapidly gained popularity. In fact, before surrounding counties and states starting holding their tournaments on Labor Day weekend, it wasn’t uncommon for the fair’s horseshoe tournament to draw more than a hundred contestants, the steady clink clank, clink clank of competition lasting till the wee hours of the morning.

There She Blows!

But even the most successful of events has its glitches.

“We (originally) built the courts facing east and west,” Jim explains, “not knowing that to meet the standards of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA), the courts must face north and south. So we decided to change them to make them official.

“We had a few problems. The clay ground was very stubborn and we encountered some tree roots that gave us a problem.

“Earl Baldwin was helping, and he said, ‘I have the answer at home.’ He returned with a stick of dynamite. We put it in the hole and covered it with some plank.

“He touched it off and dust flew every direction and the plank hit the lights above the pit and shattered them – but we got the pit dug.”

Today, the Fulton County Fair’s courts are recognized as some of the best in the state. Jim says people are impressed by the courts’ cleanliness, flowers, and setting.

Horseshoe Pitching Primer

While many folks are familiar with the casual games of horseshoes played at family reunions, regulation horseshoe pitching is another thing altogether. The NHPA Official Rules of Horseshoe Pitching dictates, in 12 pages of very fine print, every last requirement that must be addressed to make a game official.

Courts must be six feet wide and at least 46 feet long. The pitchers’ box at each end of the court is a six-foot square that contains the pit (the stake pitchers aim for and the clay, sand or other approved material around it) and the pitching platforms that flank it.

Pitching platforms serve as “runways” for contestants as they pitch. The distance between the pitcher and stake depends on gender and age.

At the midpoint of the court is the game’s scorer who, for safety’s sake, sits off to the side to avoid being hit in the head by a hard metal horseshoe weighing roughly 2 1/2 pounds.

Concerns about rogue pitches dictate court backstops and a tall hurricane fence around the entire playing area, with spectators’ bleachers on the outside. Just to be safe, the Fulton County Horseshoe Club carries a million-dollar liability policy through the NHPA.

There are two ways of scoring games: cancellation or count-all. Both involve points scored, but to describe them can be dizzying.

Suffice it to say that all pitchers want to score a ringer, which the NHPA defines as “a shoe that comes to rest encircling the stake.” (For more details on the finer points of scoring, visit www.horseshoepitching.com.)

The Club holds six tournaments during Fulton County Fair Week, including an open; sepa- rate county championships for men, women and juniors; seniors’ tournament: and a doubles tournament.

“We’ve had several world champions pitch in our tournaments, (including) Paul Fought from Dayton and Stan Manker from southern Ohio,” Jim offers.

The local talent isn’t bad, either. During a mens tournament last year, Club president Olen Stutzman, a farmer who took up pitching just four years earlier, had a ringer percentage of 47.8 in one game and 54.8 another.

“Top pitchers- those in Class A- have ringer percentages that run between 40 and 55,” Jim says.

“These are the Nicklauses and Palmers and Tigers of their sport.”

Jim says that while a lot of things have changed since the fair board decided to add a horseshoe pitching tournament to their lineup in 1958, some things haven’t.

“There’s always been a real bond among pitchers,” he said. “And it still takes the same things to succeed: desire, practice, and a positive attitude.”

Persons interested in participating should consult the 2008 Fulton County Fair Book at www.fultoncountyfair.com, or pick up a copy at the Fair Box Office under the Grandstand.


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