Camaraderie breeds horseshoe excellence
BRISTOL — Horseshoe pitching, evocative of backyard family gatherings on warm evenings and hot afternoons spent at fairgrounds, is a favorite summer activity for many. For your average sports fan, though, it probably isn’t regarded as a traditionally competitive athletic spectacle.
Pay a visit to a Bristol Sodbusters Horseshoe Club practice and you might find yourself questioning that line of thinking.
The Sodbusters are a world-class competitive horseshoe pitching club sanctioned by the National Horseshoe Pitching Association (NHPA). Club members meet every Tuesday evening at their pristine Bristol facility, located off Airport Road across from Mount Abraham Union High School’s athletic fields, in preparation for showdowns with other clubs from around the Northeast. On a recent Tuesday evening, the facility’s 16 horseshoe pitching courts and perfectly clipped grass teemed with activity as more than 30 pitchers honed their craft.
It wasn’t always that way, though.
“We probably had eight, 10 people when we got started, just a backyard thing,” remembered Sodbusters co-founder Roger Forgues, 80, while observing the practice. “It’s absolutely had its ups and downs, but then you see this.”
Forgues founded the Sodbusters in 1966. The club has since grown to make its mark on national, and even international, stages of competitive horseshoe pitching. The Sodbusters now consist of 37 people, and they regularly dominate Vermont state competitions and shine at the annual NHPA world championships. Pitcher Deb Brown took home the women’s world championship in 2015, and Brian Simmons has earned three world titles, eight second-place finishes and several more third-place finishes.
This year’s world competition was held in Florence, S.C., from July 9-21, and the Sodbusters were well-represented: 14 of the club’s pitchers competed. Tyler Howard, who has won two world championships competing in the junior (under 18) division, placed third among all participants in the adult men’s division.
“It was my first time pitching the world men’s division,” Howard, 20, said. “I actually beat the number-one guy twice … First time it didn’t hit me, but after the second time I got emotional. It was really special.”
According to the Sodbusters pitchers, there’s no surefire workout plan or training regimen to achieve pitching success: Some people pick up the sport in a matter of hours while others take years to hone their skills. Horseshoe pitching excellence comes at no small price, though. To excel, a pitcher must approach pitching the same way that a basketball player practices free throws or a baseball player sharpens their hitting skills.
“The year I won worlds I was over here every day pitching about 100 shoes the summer before,” Brown said.
Though intense competition is a draw for some, for most of the Sodbusters the club simply presents a great chance to congregate with friends and family on warm evenings to share small talk and enjoy what summer in Vermont has to offer. Simmons learned that after moving away a few years ago.
“I moved back here to Vermont for friends, family,” he said. “It’s one big horseshoe family. Once you leave your friends and family, you say, why’d I do that?”
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