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Kris Toohey of the Pirates led all throwers with a high score of 143 during Week 16 play in the Deep River Horseshoe League with a high score of 143. Toohey has also turned in the second-highest score of the season with a 161. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Deep River Horseshoe League President Frank Jolly has been a member of the league for the past decade. Jolly saw an influx of several new players come into the fold this season. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Cris Christensen of the Astros throws a turn shoe, which is notorious for its difficulty in learning to throw it consistently. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Scott Allen, Jr., and the Yankees have played steady games all season and are holding on to second place in the Deep River Horseshoe League standings following Week 16 play. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The Deep River Horseshoe League (DRHL) has had one of its most competitive seasons in its 64-year history thus far in 2019. With the playoffs slated to begin on Monday, Aug. 19, there 14 teams among the 20 in the league that have a realistic shot at getting to the big dance.
After several rain-soaked days that stymied attempts to play, Week 16 action saw some more tightening up in the standings. The Royals first-place lead shrank to just a half-game over the second-place Yankees. The Reds held on to third place, the Pirates are in fourth, and the Astros remained in fifth place.
League president Frank Jolly has seen several seasons during his career with the DRHL, and he’s excited that this year’s playoff race is so close, especially at the top of the standings. The Royals, Yankees, and Reds are all bunched together, and even the fourth-place Pirates are just three games behind the Royals, who have a record of 62.5-33.5.
“This is one of the closest that we’ve had in quite a while,” Jolly said. “The top eight teams make it into the playoffs, and the top three teams are only separated by a few games. It’s nice to see the teams as close as they are.”
Following Week 16 play, the Royals are in first place, the Yankees are in second place at 62-34, and the third-place Reds have a mark of 60.5-35.5. The Pirates (59.5-36.5) are in fourth place, and the Astros (55.5-40.5) currently sit in fifth place.
The Cubs and the Rangers are tied for sixth place with their records of 52-44. The Tigers are in eighth place for the last playoff spot at 50.5-45.5, while the Mets (49.5-46.5) and the Dodgers (49.5-46.5) are only one game behind them.
The rest of the standings are as follows: White Sox (49-47), Angels (47.5-48.5), Red Sox (47.5-48.5), Braves (46.5-49.5), Cardinals (39-57), Giants (39-57), Orioles (38-58), Padres (37-59), Marlins (36.5-59.5), and Indians (26.5-69.5).
The DRHL received a lot of fresh blood this season after some players bowed out of the league at the beginning of the year for various reasons. The influx of new people is encouraging for the league, and it’s also added a bit of intrigue.
“It’s very competitive with a lot of new players,” Jolly said. “We had seven or eight people who left the league because of retirement or their jobs got in the way of allowing them play on Thursday nights. These are all new players who have never played professional horseshoes before.”
A crop of players without much experience has the potential of throwing off competitive balance, but fortunately, the league balances its teams based on prior performance at the beginning of the year, then continues tracking those handicaps throughout the season. Each of the 20 teams in the league has one player from each of the A, B, and C divisions on its squad. The divisions are determined by overall skill, and teams are assigned one player from each division randomly through a computer program.
“Every year is different. We use a computer to pick the teams. We always change up the teams every year. We don’t want any bias involved, and it’s all based on handicap,” Jolly says. “To start off a handicap, you play four games, then you take 80 percent of that average, and that’s your handicap. An A Division player would have a handicap in the low 20s, and the higher handicaps ranger from 30 to 40. The B players are around 26 into the 30s. The handicaps change every three weeks. You might start off with a low handicap, and it might change, but you keep your division for the entire year.”
Each week, every DRHL team plays a match of six games against an opposing team, and each game consists of 12 innings of play. Every player on the team plays in four of those games, which is known as a series. Division A players will always compete against Division A players, as do Division B players, and so on. During a game, two players from each opposing team will stand at opposite pits and throw two shoes apiece in an attempt to outscore their counterpart. Three points are awarded for a ringer and another point is awarded to the player who throws a shoe closest to the pin as long as it is no further than the width of a horseshoe away from said pin.
The maximum score a player can achieve in any inning is six points for two ringers, which is also known as a double. In turn, the maximum score for a game is 72, and the maximum score that a player can achieve on a given night of action is 288.
In the A Division last week, Kris Toohey of the Pirates turned in a high score of 143 to lead all players. Mike Zanelli, Sr., of the Rangers finished just behind him with a score of 142. The Yankees’ Mark Goodale posted a score of 136.
As for the B Division, Todd Nuhn of the Yankees led the way with a 114, while Dennis Goodrich of the Red Sox was right behind him with a total of 108. The Cardinals’ Jeff Fitzpatrick tallied 100 points for third place.
Then in the C Division, Brain Walsh of the Rangers tossed a 104, and the Cubs’ Ted Dubay earned a score of 103. Substitute player Frank Durinick scored a 96 for third place.
This season has seen series-highs of 162 from Zanelli, Sr., and 161 from Toohey. It takes many ringers in order to get that high of a score. Toohey has thrown a high of 48 ringers in a night, while Zanelli, Sr., recorded a top total of 44.
To consistently get a high score, competitors have to build the muscle memory in order to successfully repeat their throwing motion. There are two main types of tosses in horseshoes, and the most common one is known as a flip. Just as it sounds, a flipped shoe will flip in the air and hopefully fall on top of the pin with a ringer.
A trickier type of throw, known as the turn, is less common in the league. With this one, the shoe spinning flat like a plate with the open end ideally facing and clanging into the pin at the end of the toss. Players can be successful throwing either way, but most players, including Jolly, prefer the flip.
“I think it’s just a preference. The turn shoe is popular with the professional or more seasoned horseshoe player than the flip. It’s much more difficult the throw, but it’s much more forgiving once you have it,” said Jolly. “Like Cris Christensen, he throws a turn shoe, and he’s been one of the best in the league for years. It really hooks onto the pin. I personally can’t throw it. I throw a flip that’s one and a ½ flips. The thing is you have to make sure you have the concentration to throw the same shoe consistently. How you throw it is an individual choice.”
Jolly believes that playing horseshoes is just as popular as ever. It’s easy to set up a couple of pits in the backyard and toss the shoes back and forth. While there are other popular lawn games, horseshoes continues to go strong in Deep River.
“I think Horseshoes as a sport is pretty popular. We just don’t see it happening in people’s backyards. We’re very visible in Deep River, but there are a fair amount of leagues in Connecticut that are smaller than ours,” Jolly said. “The other towns have games in more remote areas that the public doesn’t see, but we have people coming from New Haven, Hamden, Colchester, Middletown, Old Saybrook, Old Lyme, Guilford, Clinton, and, obviously, Deep River. You don’t have to have played before to come out and try it. You just have to have an interest.”
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