Horseshoe pro tour to swing into Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Step back, wind up and pitch those horseshoes because the pro tour is coming to town.
From August 24-26, a conglomeration of the greatest horseshoe pitchers on Earth will take to the clay courts at the Sodbuster Horseshoe Pitching Club on Case Street in Middlebury. Organized by Bristol resident and reigning world horseshoe champion Brian Simmons, the Green Mountain Challenge is one of six Horseshoe Pitching Pro Tour tournaments this year.
The event marks the first time the pro tour will venture into New England, said Simmons, and it’s expected to be the biggest tournament in the tour’s three-year history.
 “The largest tournament so far was 48 players,” he said. “We’re hoping for 70.”
The event will feature music, food and some of the best horseshoe pitching anywhere. More than 100 businesses sponsored the tournament, and many of them are from Addison County.
Unlike standard horseshoe regulations used in competitions like the world championships, which Simmons is gearing up for (see related article), the pro tour plays by its own rules.
Instead of awarding points for shoes that are near or close to the pin, which is commonly the case, only ringers placed around a metal stake count on the pro tour. Each ringer equals one point. Another major difference is that when both pitchers land a ringer, they both get points. Usually two ringers would cancel each other out. Finally, the pro tour doesn’t play matches to a set score. Each game consists of 30 pitches per player.
The pitchers with the highest ringer percentage at the end of the first six games move on to the final stage. The number of proceeding pitchers isn’t fixed, said Simmons; it varies from tournament to tournament. The other players who don’t have the highest percentages then battle it out for the remaining spots in the finals.
If a player wins, he or she moves on. If a player loses, he or she calls it quits.
Generally, the top 8-10 players compete against each other. Whoever wins a given match moves on and the other is eliminated until there are only two pitchers remaining. Those two phenoms then duke it out for the championship.
The tournament is broken into two main brackets according to the distance between the pitcher and the stake: 40 feet and 30 feet. Men compete in the 40-foot competitions. Women and elderly men compete in the 30-foot competitions. There are no youth competitions on the pro tour.
Within those two brackets, there are three divisions, which are broken up by percentage. If a pitcher has a ringer percentage of 60 percent and above, he or she is in the first division. If a pitcher throws 39-59 percent, he or she is in the second division. Anyone pitching under 39 percent is in the open division.
Pitchers who win the 40-foot and 30-foot division one groups generally receive a prize of about $1,000, said Simmons. Those who win the division two brackets are awarded around $500. And those who win the open divisions get roughly $200.
Simmons is one of only three men in the entire world to throw ringers at a rate above 80 percent. The other guys are Tom Williams of Michigan and Alan Francis of Ohio. Francis has won more world championships than any other pitcher in history.
Simmons said that all are welcome to attend the Vermont tournament, and if any audience members or newcomers have questions or would like some tips they’re more than welcome to fire away.
“I encourage everyone in the area to come out and see some of the best pitchers in the world,” he said. “It’ll be a fun time.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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