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Hillman Horseshoe Club hosts its first-ever MHPA Tournament

News Photo by James Andersen Cathy Ardelean pitches a horseshoe during a Michigan Horseshoe Pitchers Association tournament at Emerick Park in Hillman on Saturday. Ardelean was one of several members of the Lake Orion Horseshoe Club who made the trip north for the event, which was the first MHPA event in Hillman.

HILLMAN — Hillman’s first sanctioned horseshoe tournament was a success.

Under sunny skies, the unmistakable clang of horseshoes filled the air as more than a dozen pitchers from around the state squared off at Emerick Park during a Michigan Horseshoe Pitchers Association tournament on Saturday.

“Beautiful weather, lots of people, everybody played good,” tournament Director Don Mueller said. “They all liked the pits. It is a great day,”

The tournament brought out an eclectic mix of pitchers, young and old, veterans and newcomers, husbands and wives, and plenty of friendship as pitchers competed across four divisions.

“We all know each other,” Mueller said. “Most of the guys and girls have been pitching in one form or another. I’ve known all these people that long.”

News Photo by James Andersen Hillman Horseshoe Club President Don Mueller pitches a horseshoe during a Michigan Horseshoe Pitchers Association event at Emerick Park in Hillman on Saturday.

One of the first-time players was Mueller’s eldest daughter, who played with her husband.

“It’s pretty impressive, first time ever,” Mueller said. “I just love it that she thinks that much about horseshoes that she’s willing to come and give it a try.”

The tournament, which was held at the Hillman Horseshoe Club’s brand-new courts, marked a return to northern Michigan for the MHPA, which doesn’t have a sanctioned club north of Lapeer.

Mueller, a Hillman resident, and local volunteers erected the horseshoe courts after a year-and-a-half of work and started the Hillman Horseshoe Club last month. Saturday’s tournament was a chance to showcase the new courts and the reception was a good one.

The courts are sanctioned by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, which means every aspect of the courts — from the placement and size of the sand pits to the lean of the stakes to the distance of the foul lines to markers for different pitching distances — is up to certain specifications.

News Photo by James Andersen Frank Quillen pitches a horseshoe during a Michigan Horseshoe Pitchers Association tournament at Emerick Park in Hillman on Saturday. Quillen played in the tournament with his wife, Jacqueline, who was one of the division winners in the event.

Leading up to tournament day, Mueller and his wife, Vicki, hoped to have at least 10 pitchers show up, given that Jackson also hosted an MHPA tournament on Saturday.

Ultimately, they got 14, including MPHA President John Stephenson and state statistician Keith Schafer, who traveled to Hillman to sanction Mueller’s courts earlier this summer.

Stephenson, who pitches in Lansing, was more than happy to support the Hillman tournament and hopes to see more pitchers at future events at the Hillman courts.

“We came up here to help support Don,” Stephenson said. “I love (the courts). We came up here to sanction them, and they’re beautiful courts, and I’d like to get more people out here pitching horseshoes.”

The double round robin format saw all pitchers in each division play each other twice. Players were seeded into divisions based on ringer percentage.

News Photo by James Andersen Michigan Horseshoe Pitchers Association President John Stephenson watches the flight of his pitched horseshoe during a MHPA tournament at Emerick Park in Hillman on Saturday. Stephenson was one of several MPHA board members who played in the event on Hillman’s brand-new courts.

Using NHPA-approved horseshoes, the games were divided into innings, whereupon each pitcher pitched two shoes per inning. Scorekeepers on each court kept track and each player had his or her own scorecard to be filled out. Since the games happened on sanctioned courts, they count toward pitchers’ point totals for qualifying for the state tournament later in the year. All scores are logged into a computer program and sent to the NHPA.

J.D. Drake, a former state champion and world team champion from Linden, won Saturday’s Class A division. Mueller, who pulled double duty as the tournament host, won the Class B division. Jacqueline Quillen, who was pitching along with her husband, Frank, in the tournament, won the Class C division. And new pitcher Mark Luebke went undefeated to win the Class D division.

While everyone was pitching to win, there was a strong feeling of camaraderie among the pitchers, who spend weekends competing all over the state and playing with each other.

“Everybody encourages,” Mueller said. “If someone’s having a good game, you root them on.”

NHPA rules say players should practice good sportsmanship on the courts, and there was plenty of it Saturday as pitchers cheered each other on and onlookers clapped and offered supportive cheers to all participants.

News Photo by James Andersen Ken Kuss pitches a horseshoe during a Michigan Horseshoe Pitchers Association tournament at Emerick Park in Hillman on Saturday. Kuss was one of several members of the Lake Orion Horseshoe Club who made the trip north for the event, which was the first MHPA event in Hillman.

“I call them my traveling circus, but that’s because we travel all over the state together,” Vicki Mueller said. “We know each other, so it’s like seeing friends that I haven’t seen in a long, long time. Everybody here, I consider a friend.”

If the Muellers have anything to say about it, there will be at least a few tournaments on the Hillman courts next year.

“It’s nice to have another place to go,” Vicki Mueller said. “That’s what’s cool about having a sanctioned pit in Hillman: This game counts. I’m hoping for two next year, one in May or June and then one in August.”

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