“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.” (Unknown)


I never played a lot of horseshoes till I got to college. I played a little as a kid, up at the lake, but I wasn’t nearly good enough to compete with the old men who played all the time. Junior year of college that all changed. My roommate at the time was Rick Janssen. He and I were both  suburban kids who went to the same high school, Shawnee Mission East. SM East was known as the country club school because we were only good at country club sports like golf and tennis and swimming. Janssen had lettered in swimming all 3 years and he was a very good all around individual athlete. I had always played team sports and had never been part of a winner at any level. The year and a half that we lived together we played horseshoes nonstop. We lived in a house just fifty yards away from the horseshoe pits in city park. We played till our fingers bled and then we taped them up and played some more.

In the spring semester of 1975 we entered the intramural doubles horseshoes tournament to represent our fraternity. In doubles shoes you take sides of the pit and throw back and forth the whole game. Janssen was a much better player than I was but I gradually closed the gap enough that we became a formidable team. The fraternity division of the tournament was split into two halves and we easily won our division without so much as a single game being lost. We won every game by at least 10 points and were never really challenged, mostly because Janssen was just that good and he never went to class so he had lots of time to practice. The fraternity league finals against the other division winner was a completely different story.

Kansas State is a well know AG school with majors like grain science, animal husbandry, agronomy, veterinary medicine and milling. Horseshoes at an AG school is right up there with rodeo  for the guys who came from farm country in western Kansas. My only connection to agriculture was mowing the lawn and picking tomatoes for my Mom. Janssen actually liked horticulture and had a lot of plants in our apartment but other than that, agriculture was not one of our best things. It was just a bit of a sacrilege that two guys from SM East were even playing horseshoes at K-State and the fact that we were winning did not go over well with some of the other frats. Our opponents in the fraternity finals were 2 farm boys from Alpha Gamma Rho or AGR. They don’t come more farm oriented than that house.

The day of the final we were expecting a big crowd from both houses as intramurals were all about bragging rights on campus. We got there first because we always got there first and practiced for hours before our opponents showed up. As the mud covered pickup trucks filled with AGRs began to arrive we knew we were in trouble. At least it was easy to get to know everybody on their side because they all had their names on their belts. Janssen and I were slightly less formal in our attire. I think we had cut-off shorts and sandals on and that was it. Janssen’s shoulder length blonde hair was probably longer than the combined length of their whole house. The worst part was nobody from our house showed up because they were all at a house softball game and had apparently forgotten all about us. So here we were, two city boys from the country club matched up against the most heavily testosterone laden fraternity in the history of horseshoes. If we won, we risked getting our asses kicked and if we lost we would have to endure never ending abuse for the rest of our college days.

Janssen had fire in his eyes and he wasn’t about to concede defeat to anybody. He took the side with the guy we knew was their best player. My opponent was an unknown commodity who looked like he bent his own horseshoes by hand. I shook hands with my left hand to make sure he didn’t try to crush my throwing hand. The rest of their friends were making comments about what a wimp I was for having to tape every finger on my hand to keep it from getting blisters. That was the last straw as we hadn’t even begun playing yet and they were doing some serious trash talking.

About a half an hour later they weren’t saying much of anything as we had just finished giving them a lesson in how to win at horseshoes. It wasn’t even close and they knew it because we were just that good. They were actually pretty decent about it and didn’t threaten us with bodily harm. They just tucked their tails between their legs and quickly left. The really odd part for us was that we had no one there to celebrate our victory with. The only people who knew what happened were the losers and they weren’t exactly anxious to spread the news of their defeat.  After a while we couldn’t stand it anymore and we drove over to where the softball game was being lost. Our announcement was met with slightly less enthusiasm than one would expect but since we weren’t living in the house anymore the hardcore regulars didn’t give us much credit. I wasn’t really expecting a parade but even after we won the All-University Championship by beating the dorm league and the independent league champs, we barely got a mention at chapter dinner. Now that Janssen has passed away, no one but me will ever know about the greatest sports moment of my life. At least I’ve still got the Intramural Champion T-Shirt as proof that this actually happened.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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