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"POPULAR MECHANIC" - HARRY TRUMAN and FERANDO ISAIS




Our sport is familiar with having horseshoe courts on the White House lawn. Both of the Presidents Bush were avid pitchers. The sport even goes back to Warren Harding, who in 1921 was named the Honorary President of the NHPA.

This article brings to our attention that President Harry Truman had pitching courts on the White House lawn. From an article in the July 1946 Popular Mechanics, came this national exposure for our sport. What may initially appear to tell Truman's pitching, actually is more about the sport itself, featuring ten-time World Champion Fernando Isias.

So here is what Popular Mechanics said about our sport 60 years ago....

"PITCHING THE PRESIDENT'S GAME"

If someone tells you horseshoes pitching is a farmer’s game, don't believe it! It's a soldier’s game. Farmers learned the game from soldiers when the soldiers came home from the wars - back in ancient Greece, a couple of thousand years ago.

When President Truman recently established a horseshoe court on the White House grounds, he pitched a dead ringer for a game that has between two and three million followers in the United States. Now the sport is in the national spotlight. And many a foresighted statesman is brushing up on horseshoe pitching just in case!

No, horseshoe pitching is not a farmer's game. It’s been popular with the farmers since grandpa was a kid, but the game cuts across the lines of income, social position and occupation to carve a homely niche among America's popular pastimes. The clank of steel can be heard from tenement districts to millionaire estates. The game is especially popular with factory workers, who flip horseshoes between bites of their noonday lunch. And where's the village firehouse that has no pitching court just around the corner from the hooks and ladders?

Chief reason for the popularity of the sport is the simplicity of the equipment and the small area needed for a court. Secure a couple of steel pegs in properly prepared beds, buy a few horseshoes and you have a court. One set of shoes will last a lifetime. It’s inexpensive entertainment that pays a bonus in muscle building. It's easy-moving sport that's played in outdoor air.

There are ways and more ways to pitch a horseshoe. The experts have their own style to pitch a horseshoe. But the game itself is standardized under rules adopted by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America. The game has its local, regional, state, inter-state, national and world championship tournaments. And champions of the sport are real athletes.

How does a champion pitch a horseshoe? Take a look at Fernando Isias in action. He is a husky 32-year-old Californian who was born in the fishing village of La Paz, in Baja California, Mexico. He's of Spanish Basque descent and that last name is pronounced "ee-sah-ees" with the accent on the middle syllable.

He’’s a horseshoe champion extraordinary, but he's never ridden a horse and has never lived on a farm. He’s been winning horseshoe pitching championships for 15 years. He was the champion tennis player in the Mexican Southern California tournament for 1946 and he averages a husky 186 as a bowler in league play. Between tournaments, he manufactures Venetian blinds at Ventura, Calif.

Soon after Isais started pitching horseshoes he won the California championship. That was in 1931. He has held the state title eight or nine times and has been interstate champion of Arizona, Indiana, Utah, Iowa and Oregon. In 1934 and 1935 he toured the country with Ted Allen, national title holder at that time, giving exhibitions of plain and fancy "hoss shoe" pitching. He whipped Allen at the Iowa State Fair at Des Moines in 1941 to win the national championship and he has held the title through the war years.

Championship pitching is not a lazy everyday sport. It’s a grueling game that calls for great physical endurance and steady nerves. Many a contender drops out because of fatigue. Isais trains for a tournament by putting himself in top condition with four hours of practice a day for at least six weeks before the tournament. "It’s like any other sport," he says. "Practice counts!"

Isais started out as a "1¼" pitcher. That is, he first pitched a horseshoe that turned one and one fourth revolutions in mid-air.

"But I found I could do better with a shoe that turns faster," he says. "Now I throw a one and three quarter shoe. It grabs the peg better, it doesn't bounce back as easily."

In action, Isais has the precision and grace of motion that mark his fine athlete. And if you want to learn his style of pitching, here's the way to toss the shoe:

With your left hand hold the shoe with caulks down, open end toward your right. Grip the shoe with your right hand, thumb on top with three fingers reaching under the shoe and gripping its inner edge. Brace your little finger against the toe caulk - that's the one on the round end of the shoe.

"Bracing your little finger like that will always give you exactly the same hold on the shoe," Isais says. "The whole purpose of your grip, your stance and your delivery is to standardize your movements so that every pitch will be exactly alike. Then you should work to improve your accuracy."

Stand in the pitcher’s box, about even with stake, feet close together, with your weight mostly on your right leg. Raise the shoe to sighting or aiming position, at full arm's length ahead of you. Swing the shoe back and drive your arm high up behind you, keeping elbow and wrist straight.

When Isais makes this backswing, he leans sharply forward from the hips. His hand and the horseshoe are high above his head.

In this position, you are ready to start the forward swing, which will send the 2½ pound steel shoe sailing 40 feet to ring the opposite stake - you hope.

Bring the shoe downward and forward without turning it off a vertical plane, until the shoe has passed your right leg. If the shoe bumps your leg, your pitch can't be accurate. Keep your eyes on the opposite stake.

On the upswing, turn the shoe to a horizontal plane and give it a slight clockwise twist. Let go when the shoe is on a line between your eyes and the opposite stake.

The shoes aren’t real horseshoes - the kind that horses wear. They're made especially for pitching and they come in standard shape, weight and tempers. Isais likes a "dead soft" temper shoe for tournaments, because it has less bounce. A soft shoe soon gets full of dents however, and if you use one you'll need a file to remove sharp edges.

For purposes of scoring, a game is divided into innings. When each contestant has pitched two shoes, that’s one inning. A tournament game is played for 50 points, but most league games usually are played for 21. A regulation contest between two players consists of the best six out of eleven games.

To earn any points the shoe must lie within six innings of the stake after all four shoes have been pitched. The closest shoe within six inches of the stake scores one point. A ringer scores three points. All equal scores by opponents in any inning are ties and are not tallied. In each inning, a player may gain in score only by superior pitching. Tournament games have gone to 130 shoes per player before one player could win 50 points.

"That’s when training counts," says Fernando Isais. "Training gives you confidence. When the game gets tough, you don’t lose your nerve. The crowd doesn’t upset you. You are sure of your delivery. And with luck - you win!"