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For some, the annual tournament is more about seeing old friends than winning.
LEOPOLD, Mo. -- For some of the people sweating through repeated games of horseshoes Saturday, regular practice brings the rewards of regular trophies.
For others, like Rick Eftink and Bill Senciboy, both of Oran, Mo., the only time they throw for ringers is when tournament time comes around. "We threw our qualifying shoes, and that is it since last year," Eftink said after he and Senciboy had defeated Robin Burger and Brent Burger in their third match of the day.
For Eftink and Senciboy, the annual Missouri State Knights of Columbus Horseshoe Tournament is a chance to drink a beer or two, see people they haven't seen since last year's tournament and have a good time.
Winning a trophy would be nice, too, they said, but that isn't their reason for competing.
"We've been friends since we have been in grade school," Eftink said. "We don't care if we win or lose. We just go to have a good time."
"It is like a grown-up reunion," Senciboy said. "It's fun, there's a lot of people and all my friends are right here."
This year is the third time tiny Leopold, an unincorporated village southeast of Marble Hill, Mo., has hosted the tournament. The grounds of the St. Isidore Council 5898 were crowded with throwers and spectators.
A total of 569 teams took part, each with two players. And they brought family and friends, swelling the crowd on Saturday afternoon to several thousand.
With eight competition classes for men, four for women and a senior class, announcers Chris Peters and Kyle Elfrink were kept busy constantly announcing which players were up next. They also found time to promote the kettle-beef dinner and the beer tents.
Elfrink, who works on-air at a Columbia, Mo., radio station, said he's better off behind the microphone. "There's one thing I'm good at, and it is not horseshoes."
Storms swept over the tournament shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday, ending play for the day. The tournament is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today, but with a few more matches than had been planned to determine champions in each class.
Del Elfrink, tournament coordinator, said the tournament mainly draws from Knights of Columbus chapters on the eastern side of the state. Still, he said, it "may very well be the largest horseshoe tournament in the country by the number of horseshoe pitchers, both men, women and seniors."
There were 80 teams entered from the Leopold Knights of Columbus council alone, Elfrink said.
"The most interesting thing is who comes back year after year," he said. At the morning breakfast, he said, were five men who started the tournament and have missed few since it began in 1981 in Scott City with 53 teams.
Referee Gerald Jansen, a four-time winner in the top division, said the tournament is a relaxed atmosphere. Cheering is encouraged, he said, and the focus is on fun and family. "They holler and shout and carry on," Jansen said. "A lot of people develop friendships, and everybody is here to have fun."
The tournament divided classes based on qualifying scores. Each team threw 100 horseshoes, counted up the score and sent that along with their application.
To stay in the top bracket, Jansen said, "you have to throw every day, sometimes 200 horseshoes a day. The teams that dominate do that."
While the first day of the tournament is relaxed, the second day, when a loss could send many teams home in the double-elimination event, is a little more intense, Jansen said.
In 1987, he said, he and his partner lost in their first round game, then had to win 12 straight matches to emerge victorious.
"If you are in the running on the second day, you concentrate a little more," he said.
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