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Column: Ringers were a more common sight in a time not long gone by

By Ray Crippen

WORTHINGTON — A woman’s shoe is two words. Woman’s shoe.

A brake shoe is two words. Brake shoe.

A horseshoe is one word. Horseshoe.

Don’t ask. A week ago I did not know even this much. Horseshoe. One word. That’s just how it is.

I got started on this lately when I was at Chautauqua Park. It had been a long time since I took notice of the horseshoe court at the park. Considering what the court is — a somewhat elaborate sportsplex from a time gone by — it might be counted precious. You can look in a lot of corners and a lot of nooks of a lot of towns and not find a horseshoe court any longer.

The Chautauqua Park court is divided in two parts, each part designed for eight players — 16 players can toss shoes at one time. There are 16 identical wood stands that keep each player at exactly the same distance from the stakes. This court is not something ordinary. There are even lights for night pitching. I will bet Worthington’s park court meets the standards of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America — yes, there is such a thing.

In a time not long gone by, Doug Wolter would have included reports from the area horseshoe scene on his sports pages. The Daily Globe once published horseshoe league standings.

I had four uncles living on farms. I remember watching them play horseshoe on July 4 more than once. Now and again one of them would get a ringer — get a horseshoe around a stake — and he would chuckle. The uncles might toss shoes again on Labor Day. I thought they were pretty good. Turns out they were pretty amateur.

What I am saying is, the competition players — the guys who used the horseshoe courts at Chautauqua Park — practiced. I remember one evening I talked at the park with Fred Kinsman, who lived along Highway 59 N between I-90 and the airport. I suppose I was writing something for the paper. Fred, who had a long, thin building at home where he practiced ringers, said many players practiced every day. Some had stakes set out in their backyards and they would toss a few shoes every noon or every evening. They didn’t get ringers now and then; they got ringer after ringer. Clang! Clang! Clang! They were very good.

Fred Kinsman was one of the major forces in getting the Chautauqua courts created. He had a lot of support. Oh — 40 years ago there were horseshoe players everywhere, although I think the heyday of horseshoes probably came in the time of the cowpokes (one word) and slowpokes (one word). There still are players. Brewster had a horseshoe competition at its summer celebration last month.

I talked with Worthington’s park superintendent, Scott Rosenberg. Scott said, “There was some kind of horseshoe event at the park one Turkey Day not too long ago but — no — there is not much horseshoe activity.” You can go to Chautauqua Park just about any hour of any day and toss shoes if you are inclined.

Talk about changing times — we are talking about horseshoes in the age of video games. I recall when A.J. (Hap) Ehlers was park superintendent. Hap had a checkerboard of poured concrete made near the horseshoe courts. Red squares and black squares. There was a box with round wood black checkers and round wood red checkers. People at Chautauqua Park picnics used to walk over for a game checkers after they had all the fried chicken and potato salad and peach pie they wanted. I did it myself. In fact, on summer days, the neighborhood gang sometimes made it a point when we were riding bikes near the park to stop and play oversize checkers.

Jane Turpin Moore, in her “Looking Back” column, noted lately that Worthington judged Chautauqua Park had become too small. There is reason to regret now and again that a significant part of the park was sold in the 1920s, the early ’30s, for residential housing. Worthington has done a great job developing lakeside parks in the years since, however. If Chautauqua is crowded, try Centennial. Or Slater, or Sunset or Ehlers or Ludlow. Many fine parks.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.