Horseshoe Tournament returns to Oregon Trail Days
     2014-07-17      By Doug Harris   
Photo by Kay Grote/Gering Citizen - Riggin McKnight makes a good toss during the OT Days Horseshoe Tournament held Saturday at Oregon Trail Park. 
The fairly modern adage of ‘Build it and They Will Come’ certainly held true for regional horseshoe pitchers as they gathered at Oregon Trail Park to bring back an old Oregon Trail Days tradition of holding an annual summer tourney.

“Oregon Trail Days held a horseshoe tournament for 25 years but it sort of died out,” organizer John Booker said. “This is the first time we’ve done this in years and we’re trying to bring it back.” With a turnout of 21 registered teams of two partners, it appears the spirit of tossing shoes is alive and well in the Panhandle.

“The courts were in excellent shape thanks to the city employees and B&C Steel and Scottsbluff Screenprinting for their help and sponsorship. The spirits were high and the horse shoes were plentiful,” Booker said.

Booker is the director of the local “Iron Chukar Horseshoe League” that started up this past February in a barn on Farmstead Road west of Scottsbluff. “The ‘chukar’ is a small game bird but it also represents the ‘chucking’ involved in the sport,” Booker said. “The ‘iron’ is for the horseshoes.”

The Iron Chucker’s are an officially sanctioned league as members of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA) and they boast the only indoor pitching facility in Western Nebraska. The OT Days tourney met all national regulations so winners could qualify for the state tournament that will be held in Columbus during the last week of August.

“Everyone throws from 500 to 800 shoes during a regular tournament,” Booker said, pausing to enthusiastically congratulate his partner Tony Vasquez Sr. who had just nailed two perfect ringers. “As you can see I get pretty darned excited about it!” It was fascinating to watch the accuracy of the pitchers. The telltale clinking sound of dead on shots filled the air at the park.

Booker said the league is always looking for new members and they hope the horseshoe contest will become an annual OT Days event for years to come. “We have a lot of fun with this,” he said. “We’re really happy to see this event taking off again.”

Another pitcher, Edgar Hardin, said that the club was also starting up a junior league for youngsters from age 8 to 16. “We offer free registration for all youth,” Hardin said. “NHPA hall of famer Bill Nelson from Gering is going to help out with the junior league.”

Horseshoe pitchers can also mark two upcoming tournaments on their calendar. The Peabody Hale Horseshoe Pitching tournament will be held in Crawford on July 26 starting at 10 a.m. in the city park and the Iron Chukars will host their Halloween Indoor tournament on Sunday, Oct. 26 at 180244 Farmstead Road in Scottsbluff. Other upcoming tournaments include Sidney, Lisco, Lodgepole and Scottsbluff. Men, women and kids are all welcome, Booker added. The OT Days tournament was a partner’s match but he said there are also single event NHPA play. For more information people can call Booker at (308) 631-7530, Hardin at (308) 641-6384 or Tim Shaske at (308) 641-3377.

The results of the tournament were as follows:

Division A: 1. Tony Vasquez Sr. and John Booker; 2. Mike Vergil and Edgar Hardin; 3. Sid Davis and Josh Shaske. Last: Johnny Bravo and Dan Hubbard.

Division B: 1. Clinton Riessen and Eleanor McKnight; 2. Allyn Williams and Jodie Shaske; 3. Jim McKnight and Rex Wheeler. Last: Jarod Ross and Daniel Gallegos.

They also held a 50/50 Raffle and winner Mike Vergil donated the $30.00 prize back to support the Junior Chucker’s Club. Other raffle winners were Josh Shaske and Clinton Riessen who won horseshoe pickers donated by John Booker. Overall the group raised $100 to start the Junior League.

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