Statesville has twice been the host city to the World Horseshoe Tournament and, as such, horseshoe-tossers (called pitchers) from all over the country and Canada came to our fair county. This was back a while, in 1979 and 1983.
In 1979, the Statesville Jaycees acted as local hosts, assisted by the local recreation department, the Merchants Association and the Chamber of Commerce. Among the local leaders involved in getting the 1979 world tourney to be held in Statesville were Mayor Thomas Fanjoy, Recreation Department Director Jack Springer, Kenneth Wooten of the Merchants Association and Joe Blevins.
The 1983 tournament was held at what was then called Lakewood Park from July 27 through Aug. 6. So far, these two tournaments — of 1979 and 1983 — are the only World Horseshoe Tournaments to be held in a North Carolina city.
Of course, people have been throwing horseshoes for fun here for a long time. As early as the summer of 1896, The Landmark noted, “Rolling hoops, playing marbles and pitching horseshoes are epidemic among Statesville small boys, and wherever two or three are gathered together one or the other of these games may be seen in progress. The two latter are not always confined to small boys either.”
In 1902, one of The Landmark’s country correspondents, “Ymo,” reported that horseshoe pitching was all the rage in southern Iredell. “Quite the most popular thing at Troutman now is horseshoe pitching. It starts up in the morning when the mockingbird begins to mock and ceaseth not until the whippoorwill begins to whip. There are thirty or forty devotees who would let their wives go hungry any time to complete a game of horseshoes.”
He (she?) went on to tell of an impending tournament of sorts scheduled to be held at Brown’s Store the coming Saturday. The correspondent predicted a close contest and noted that Grandpa Jack Cavin would be in attendance to referee and so perhaps prevent an outbreak of fisticuffs. Contestants from the Coddle Creek neighborhood, Catawba County and from as far away as Guilford were expected. And if they found themselves in the neighborhood, Landmark readers were encouraged to “just light, hitch your horse, take off your coat and participate in the pitching and the ice water. ‘Tis a free-for-all fight, with lots of honor to the champion.”
“Serious” horseshoe pitching began in our state back in 1958 when about 20 local pitchers from the area around Winston-Salem decided to organize and get a charter from the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association.
Horseshoe pitching was an important part of the Carolina Dogwood Festival, which began here in 1969. The horseshoe competition was regarded as one of the biggest drawing cards for the festival. By 1975, contestants gathered here from 22 states. Some local pitchers involved were J. T. and Robert Goforth, Gurney York and Donald Douglas.
In 1977, the city added eight new lighted and paved horseshoe courts to the 16 already in use at what has been known since 2017 as Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Both cash awards and trophies went to winners at the Dogwood Festival held that April. The courts were sufficient in number, condition and other qualities to be considered and Statesville was selected as the venue for the 1979 World Tournament.
Utah has hosted the national tournament 15 times, while the 2019 tournament was held in Texas. The NHPA (National Horseshoe Pitchers Association) has been keeping records since 1915, when the tourney was held in Missouri.
Although the national tournament will not be held in Statesville or North Carolina in 2020, Statesville will be the scene of hot horseshoe action when April 25-26 the Paul Stewart Classic, an open tournament, will be held here, and June 6, Statesville will be the site of the North Carolina State Doubles Tournament.
The 2020 World Horseshoe Tournament will be held in Monroe, Louisiana, July 13-25. However, the North Carolina Hall of Fame Benefit Tournament is scheduled to be held in Statesville Sept. 5.
Perhaps sometime in the near future the national tournament might be held here again, which would make a nice complementary event to our Carolina BalloonFest.