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Article Published June 22, 2020

Shoreline Throwers Hit the Pits as Deep River Horseshoe League Returns

By Chris Negrini/

The Deep River Horseshoe League (DRHL) is back in action after opening its season at the Deep River First Congregational Church Green on June 18. As Connecticut moved into phase two of its reopening plan during the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to hold sporting competitions that allow for safe social distancing of participants meant that the DRHL could extend its streak of longest continually running horseshoe league in the state with its 65th season. League President Frank Jolly, who lives in Old Saybrook, and his fellow throwers were excited to offer a live sports experience for a community starved of them.

There were plenty of stipulations involved with opening competition for the DRHL, but everyone was afforded the chance to play the game they love with their peers.

"We had an excellent turnout. Everyone was so excited to just play some horseshoes," Jolly said. "With social distancing and everyone hunkering down, we hadn't seen each other in a long time."

Jolly had to commit serious time and energy into getting the DRHL up and running. Jolly also had a staunch advocate in Deep River First Selectman Angus MacDonald. Jolly and MacDonald stayed informed of direction from Governor Ned Lamont's office and planned for the season's opening accordingly.

"Our first selectman, Angus MacDonald was very cooperative. He was talking with the governor every day. We'd been working on it for a couple of months, all over the phone. The town offices were closed, so we couldn't sit down and have a conversation" said Jolly. "He wanted to get the league going as soon as possible. When phase two came around, he made sure I was aware of it. He wanted us to get a season in this year if we could."

Of course, the safety of all participants was the biggest concern on everyone's mind if the league were to resume. Luckily, the sport of horseshoes lends itself to safe competition while remaining at a distance appropriate to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

"They wanted to make sure we were following social-distancing guidelines and wearing masks when we're not throwing. Because it's a sporting event, you are allowed to take your mask off when throwing, but then put it back on when you're done," Jolly said. "The people up there throwing are six feet apart, and there are a total of six players per court. The other players are sitting down in chairs behind them keeping score. Everyone did a good job. I think everyone is sort of used to the masks now because it's the norm. We normally have 10 courts, and we eliminated two of them to help with the distancing."

The DRHL had to pare more than just its number of courts this year, trimming the season from 19 weeks down to 10 and the number of teams from 20 to 16. Other than those modifications, the league's overall format remains mostly unchanged. The playoffs will commence after the conclusion of the regular season, and a champion will be crowned by the end of the year.

"Last year we had 60 players, and if everything goes well, we will be back there next year. Phase two is only a 50-people maximum for outside events, and we fall into that because we only have 48. We lost a lot of players due to some physical situations, and there was no need for them to rush back this year," Jolly says. "We didn't know how many players we would be able to have on the field anyway. We normally play 19 weeks. This year, we only get 10 weeks. After that, the following week will be playoffs. Then we'll do the championship game."

In the DRHL, each squad consists of three players divided into divisions—A, B, and C—based on skill level with Division A being the highest scoring players. This is done to properly balance teams at the beginning of the year and ensure parity. Teams are assigned one player from each division randomly every campaign.

Every squad plays six games a week, and each game is made up of 12 innings. Every player represents their team in four of those games, and those four games are called a series. A Division A player competes head-to-head versus the opposing team's Division A player, Division B players do the same, et cetera.

Every inning, two players each from clashing teams stand at opposite pits and throw two shoes apiece to determine their scores. Every ringer is worth three points, while an additional point is awarded to the player whose shoe lands closest to the pin within the width of a horseshoe. The highest attainable score in any inning is six points from two ringers, also referred to as a double. So the max score for a single game is 72, and upper limit a player could score in a series would be 288.

With so many players champing at the bit to throw some shoes, there were several standout performances. The Pirates' Kris Toohey—a Division A player from Westbrook—threw 40 ringers in his series including eight doubles. Clinton's Mark Goodale—another Division A player representing the Royals—rang the pin 36 times with four doubles. Cris "Cowboy" Christensen, who has been part of the league's past two championship squads, had 29 ringers and six doubles as the Braves' Division A player. Cromwell's Mike DiDomizio—a Division A player with the Yankees—also had a strong night with 29 ringers including four doubles.

The DRHL standings after the first week of action feature a three-way tie for first place with the Braves, Pirates, and Red Sox all with records of 5-1. The Braves roster includes Christensen, Division B player Warren Bellows of Waterford, and Clinton's Scott Allen Sr. of Division C. Toohey's Pirates also include Higganum's Gerald Hines in Division B and Chester's Karen Perna in Division C. The Red Sox roster features A player, Butch Carotenuto of Hamden, B player John Nilson of Old Saybrook, and C player Rob Stack of Essex. The Orioles and Tigers are tied for fourth, both with 4-2 records. The Orioles include A player Gary "Pudge" Goodrich of Waterford, B player Howie Fisher of Clinton, and C player Rex Peterson of East Haddam. As for the Tigers, they feature A player Rob "Skip" Robertson of Guilford, B player Damin Roberts of Cromwell, and C player Bob Beckwith of Guilford.
The rest of the standings are as follows: Cubs (3.5-2.5), Giants (3.5-2.5), Cardinals (3-3), Angels (3-3), Rangers (2.5-3.5), Yankees (2.5-3.5), Mets (2-4), Royals (2-4), Reds (1-5), White Sox (1-5), and Dodgers (1-5).

Regardless of any player or team's score after Week 1, Jolly and his fellow throwers know that last week's true result was a win all around. Just getting some sense of normalcy after months of anything but was something to celebrate.

"Most people hadn't played horseshoes since last year, and they were very thankful that we were able to get this league started this year," Jolly said. "Reverend Howe of The First Congregational Church led us off with a prayer of well wishes for the season. Chris Groat had her food wagon there. It almost feels normal."