From ancient Rome to 21st-century Southeast Missourin, competitive horseshoe throwing has gone the distance.
Randy Grady is doing all he can to make sure the sport sticks around. As president of the SEMO Horseshoe Pitching Association, he's optimistic that it will.
"I think it is going to grow and grow," he said. "It is picking up nationally, so hopefully it'll really take off."
The sport took off for Grady when he was 21 years old. Grady, now 50, used to watch his dad play horseshoes as a kid, but he never really had interest in it until his early 20s.
"I was into baseball, really," he said. "As I got older I had to give up the real challenging sports and just start pitching horseshoes."
The summer horseshoe season is just getting started on the series, which goes to towns in several area counties, including Jackson, Benton, Oran, Kelso, New Hamburg and Scott City.
"It is more popular in rural areas because you have to have so much room to play," Grady said. "Cape used to have a few places to play, but as the city grew the courts got taken over by parking lots, I guess."
Grady, from Benton, has gotten statewide experience over the years. As a state champion in 2001 and runner-up last year he hopes to make a run for the title again.
"It is a rough, tough road to the state title," he said. "The competition is getting so tough around here. Last year was the first year we had the state champion and the junior state champion both from the same area. The competition from this region is beginning to get intense."
The next major competition for Grady will be a singles tournament held in Springfield, Mo., on Labor Day. He will also play in the KC State Tournament, which is a doubles tournament and is expected to draw more than 900 teams in De Soto during August.
Horseshoes is played as a best-of-3 series, each game to 21. A ringer is worth three points, whereas a leaner is worth one point.
Grady relates the sport to softball and bowling.
"Some of the best pitchers in the world are softball players or bowlers," he said. "The underhand movement is similar. Your arm never really tires. You can throw for a long time.
"The six-time world champion of horseshoes is also a six-time world champion in bowling, and some of the best players around here are also softball players."
As president of the league, Grady is in charge of scheduling tournaments, overseeing rule changes and coordinating area events.
"It keeps me busy, which is good because that means that the sport is growing. I'm getting a lot of calls from people interested in starting, so that's great," he said.
The SEMO league is now up to about 150 players, an increase from recent seasons.
"It is a sport that you can start at a young age and play all your life. You never have to give it up," Grady said. "It's a real relaxing sport."
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