Rows of unassuming, dirt-filled horseshoe pits may go unnoticed at Meadowbrook Park. But they’ve been there since the 1970s, and they come alive when the Arlington Iron Benders Horseshoe Pitching Club meets at 7 p.m. each Tuesday.
Fred Jurik, who used to play horseshoes with his dad, says that after noticing people playing the sport there, he eventually called to see what the group was all about. He found out that the club’s membership dues are $10 per year plus $3 on pitch night. He said one dollar of that goes into a winner-take-all weekly drawing. Jurik, who’s been a member since 2011, also says that everyone can pitch the first night free.
Arlington Iron Benders has more than 20 members from cities across North Texas, and four of them met recently to practice for a state tournament. With AT&T Stadium providing the backdrop, two-time state champion Gaylin Grant, who’s from Cedar Hill, talks about winning the 2015 and 2018 titles for his division.
“This is my first year as an elder,” says the 72-year-old, explaining that throwing distances range from 40 feet, 30 feet and 20 feet for men, women, elders and children.
Ed Posey, another state champion, is part of the group. Posey lives in Arlington and has been a member since 1975. He says it all began at the park with three pits in 1973. “We actually encourage cheerleaders,” he jokes while a girl Hula-hoops in the grass nearby. “We don’t get those too often.”
Posey says many of the members are “old-time iron benders” and they’ve had a good relationship with Arlington. The City mows the grass, while the club maintains the horseshoe pits. “This is the original location,” he says. “Forty-six years, we’ve been here.”
Before the night is over, the group votes to make loyal Iron Benders Bennie Underwood, Ronnie Howard and Jerry Steadham all lifetime members. Why is that a big deal? They will longer need to pay dues.
Howard and Steadham “both represent Arlington and they will go to, you know, different tournaments in the state, and they’ll wear our shirt and represent us,” Jurik says. “Benny Underwood is also a longtime member. He’s 91 years old. He still comes out here.”
This year, the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association’s World Championship will come to Texas for the first time and be held in Wichita Falls. Jurik hopes the competition will someday happen in Arlington.
Posey, who ranked No. 17 two years in a row at the world championships, says about 1,300 pitchers play during the two-week tournament. However, those numbers can double, or triple, when it comes to actual attendance.
Marcus Owens was looking for some competition when he joined the group about 10 years ago. At the time, one of the members was a 15-time state champion, and Owens wanted to find out if he pitched a flip-shoe or a turn-shoe.
“The turn-shoe is something very special,” notes Owens, explaining that it’s sort of like throwing a Frisbee and a hard thing to master.
“We’re all turn-shoers,” he says, adding that most world champion horseshoe throwers are turn-shoers, and a lot of backyard horseshoe pitchers are flippers.
“I was a double flipper,” says Jurik.
All seem to agree that the best thing about playing the tournaments is meeting people from across the nation and the world.
“We’ve made a lot of lifelong friendships through this,” Posey says. “It’s one big family.”