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A Pastime Becomes a Science

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From: Pitching Championship Horseshoes
by, Ottie W. Reno

About 1900 and shortly thereafter horseshoe pitching began to flourish in different sections of the United States. Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Florida, New York, Ohio and California were among the busiest states. There are records of local clubs and local tournaments in all of these states prior to 1915, and indications that matches were held with players from other states.
One of the things that kept the game from progressing more rapidly was the great variation in playing rules. The pitching distance ranged from 25 feet in some localities to 45 feet in others. Stakes were two inches high -in some states, eight inches high in others. A few players had shoes specially made by blacksmiths, but most of them used shoes that had previously been worn by horses. Ringers were scored as five points in some spots and three in others. Leaners were scored as one, two or three points in different communities. In most places the top ringer claimed all ringers under it.
There was no organized body to govern the game, and no set of rules by which to play it. As teams from the different localities began to play matches against each other, it became apparent that a uniform set of rules and a governing body were needed. It was obviously unfair to ask either team to play by the other's rules, particularly if the distance between the stakes varied.

Formation of the Grand League

The first record of an attempt to adopt uniform rules was in 1913, when several Kansas and Missouri players sat down and drafted a set of playing rules. To arrive at the best rules, they pitched a given number of games under each of the different versions of the rules and adopted the one they felt was best.
They then went a step further and set up a ruling body by whose authority these rules were adopted.
In the courtroom of the First District Court, Kansas City, Kansas, on May 16, 1914, the Grand League of the American Horseshoe Pitchers Association became the first ruling body of the horseshoe pitching game. Officers were elected, and a constitution and bylaws were adopted.
Under this parent organization local charters were granted, and the uniform rules were spread into other states and adopted.

Among the rules adopted by the Grand League were some very significant ones. One of the important ones was that equals cancelled equals. One ringer by the second pitcher that landed on top of two ringers by the first pitcher had counted as three ringers for the second pitcher in the past. Now it would cancel one of the first pitcher's ringers but the first pitcher would still score one live ringer. This gave the pitcher who threw two ringers the advantage he had earned.

Another rule, which helped all players by giving them a. bigger target, raised the stake to eight inches. The possibility of getting more ringers made the game immediately more attractive. Since that time the height of the stake has been raised to 12 inches and finally to 14. This higher stake, along with a three-inch incline toward the other stake, has made it possible for the players to pitch more ringers. The adoption of the moist clay for a pitching surface has kept ringers from bouncing off the stake after they were pitched.
The league set the rule that shoes should not weigh less than two pounds and not more than two pounds and three ounces. This served to standardize the pitching shoe not too far from the present weight, as set out in the rules elsewhere in this book.

Leaners were set at three points, ringers at five points and shoes within six inches of the stake at one point. The box was three feet on either side and six feet behind the stake. Pitchers were permitted to stand anywhere in the box, and the pitching distance was set at 38 1/2 feet.