Buddy Dyrda lifts a horseshoe to his face, staring 40 feet at a metal stake painted white.
The 23-year-old roofer from Calgary is the No. 4 seed in the Canadian championships, which open Wednesday with a parade of athletes following a Royal Canadian Legion honour guard. About 170 pitchers from seven provinces will compete for bragging rights and modest cash purses. Top prize: about $400.
Mr. Dyrda is a notable contestant for his youth. At his Calgary club, the next oldest challenger is more than twice his age. He is the up-and-coming son in a game unapologetically dominated by fathers and grandfathers.
He thinks the sport needs to work on its image and become more attractive to his peers.
"What do I want to do with it? Turn it into a spectator sport. Get more recognition. There's Game Boys and Xboxes. Hard to gets kids out here. Hard to get them into the fresh air."
A pastoral hobby more befitting an agrarian 19th century than a digital 21st has a marketing problem.
"Kind of boring," he acknowledges. "Like watching paint dry."
He played team sports in high school, but prefers bowling and, especially, horseshoes.
"In basketball, your teammates let you down one night and you let them down the next," he said. "This is a one-man sport. It's all you. That's how I like it."
He won three national titles as a junior, scoring ringers on four of every five tosses. As an adult, he has had to move back 10 feet. At first, he scored on only three of five tosses. Now, after four hours of daily practice and tens of thousands of tosses, he is slowly returning to his old average.
He has returned to the club in which he learned the venerable sport from his grandfather, Gordon Butts. The Victoria Horseshoe Club, which opened in 1935, is the longest continuously operated club in the land. His grandmother, Dorothy, was inducted into the British Columbia Horseshoe Association hall of fame last year. Rheumatoid arthritis limits her pitching, but she remains active as an organizer.
The club runs a program for local high-school students as part of their physical education classes. Not surprisingly, the sport does not rank high on the groovy scale.
What did Buddy's teenaged buddies think of his avocation?
"They thought it was stupid," he says, "until I finished second in the world."
The Victoria club is a fine facility with a clubhouse and both open-air and covered courts. The club charges just $50 annual membership, while children play for free. It is one of the best-kept secrets in the capital district.
On Tuesday, two old chums - Dale Squires, 61, a retired vending-machine operator from Saskatoon, and Scotty Miller, 67, a semi-retired pipefitter from Calgary - whiled away the morning with a long, best-of-three showdown featuring good-natured ribbing.
They debated the merits of the 1¼ rotation toss versus the 1¾ rotation toss. They teased another player about having placed magnets within his shoes.
Talk turned to the late Elmer Hohl, a six-time world champion and 19-time Canadian champion who is widely thought to have been the greatest the sport has ever known. He is the Babe Ruth and Bobby Orr and Rocky Marciano of a sport dismissed by many as a summer pastime.
Mr. Hohl belonged to the fourth generation to farm the same plot of land at Wellesley, Ont., west of Kitchener. He only became a competitor at age 38, making up for the delay by winning title after title.
As impressive as was his résumé, the admiring pitchers remembered best his trick shots. It was said he could pitch over an automobile to place a ringer on a stake he could not see. Once, he was asked to toss against a brown stubby beer bottle for a commercial. The brewer supplied a stack of two-fours, expecting the shoot to result in shattered glass and sprayed suds. Mr. Hohl's first toss landed in such a fashion as to perfectly frame the label on the bottle. It is said he turned to the director to say, "What else would you like?"
Back on the warm-up courts, Mr. Dyrda continues his late-morning practice.
Horseshoes spin and clang against the stake.
"Four for four," a spectator notes.
"Not quite," Buddy answers. He kicks at a horseshoe in the dirt in the bottom of the pile. "Now it's four for four."
He smiles. If only it was that easy.
Special to The Globe and Mail
The Canadian horseshoe championships are being held at the Victoria horseshoe club, 620 Kenneth St., from Wednesday until Saturday. Admission is free. The clubhouse has light refreshments for sale.Report Typo/Error
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