. RONCEVERTE — Two-time state horseshoe pitching champion Allen Withrow recently captured the 2011 Moose International championship. The Ronceverte man also currently holds the 30th slot in the rankings maintained by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America.
Retired from a 39-year career with the Division of Highways, Withrow has lived in Ronceverte since the age of 12. He took up horseshoes in 1976, competing in the Ronceverte league that competes on the Island Park courts.
“Everyone holds the shoe a little different,” Withrow describes his sport. “But timing and concentration are the most important factors to success for anyone. It takes a lot of practice, concentration and eye-hand coordination.”
The Island Park league, which Withrow has served as secretary/treasurer since 1995, holds matches from mid-May through August each year and is required to conduct two tournaments or sanctioned events each year in order for members to establish a scoring average to qualify for the state tournament.
Players’ scores in those sanctioned events are recorded with the national organization and used to determine seedings at the sport’s various large-scale tournaments.
Withrow explains that in tourney play, competition is on a “cancellation” basis, meaning two players go head-to-head in each game. If both players get ringers in a given pitch, neither gets a point on that pitch; they have canceled each other out. But if one gets a ringer — which is worth 3 points — and the other’s pitch misses but is within 6 inches of the pin — worth 1 point — the first player will be credited with 2 points, as only 1 of his points was canceled by his opponent’s throw. The player who gets to 40 points first wins.
The organization in Ronceverte is a handicap league, however, meaning games there allow each pitcher 50 shoes, with no cancellation in effect. The winner is determined strictly on the basis of who tallies the most points, with each game lasting about 30 minutes.
“We have 12 members now, but it has been up to as many as 25,” Withrow says, noting membership has dropped off in the past three or four years.
The courts on Island Park are also open to the general public except when a tourney is under way, as the league usually only occupies about half of the eight courts in the venue.
Withrow estimates he competes in eight to 10 tournaments a year, now that he is retired.
“My biggest fan is my wife, Kay,” he says with a grin. “She follows me to every tournament. Sometimes I’m pitching five or six hours a day, so it has to be lonely for her, but she’s right there the whole time.”
The bigger tourneys draw a large field of entries, Withrow notes, saying this year’s world championship attracted around 170 pitchers, while the Moose International competition he won in Strasburg, Va., boasted close to 300 entries.
“They’re a lot of fun,” Withrow says of the tournaments in which he competes. “I’ve met some great friends through horseshoes. In all the years I’ve been pitching horseshoes, I’ve only run into one or two who were not friendly.”
Withrow says his biggest accomplishment in his sport was being elected in 2001 to the West Virginia Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame.
“I guess that’s what I’m proudest of,” he says.
As the top-ranked West Virginian in the current national rankings, Withrow shows a ringer percentage of 65.90.
He and his wife are the parents of one son, Michael Withrow, who lives in White Sulphur Springs. They have four grandchildren.