Bucyrus resident Virgle McCown has taken pitching horseshoes seriously for many years, and now he has something truly special to show for it: A runner-up finish at a world championship.
At the recent National Horseshoe Pitchers Association 2019 World Tournament at the Multi-Purpose Events Center in Wichita Falls, Texas, McCown took second in the senior men’s division (60-and-over). On his way to the stellar showing, McCown went 8-3 and was topped only by Michigan resident James Dunlap, who went 9-2.
“It was awesome,” McCown said. “Especially when all the guys in the competition cheered so hard for me when I went up to get my award. That really made me feel good.”
McCown entered the tournament with an average of 55-percent ringers. He pitched on five consecutive days in the event, including preliminary rounds on the first three (July 29-31) and championship rounds on last two (Aug. 1-2).
In the 12-man finals, McCown went 3-3 on day one, but won all five of his matches on day two.
“On the first three days, I didn’t really do that well –– just enough to make the championship,” he said, “But on the next two days, I had good games when I needed them. I had to play against the top six pitchers on the first day of the championship, and when I got those three wins I felt pretty good. Then I didn’t lose the next day.”
McCown said games often seemed to go his way, even when he was off a bit. In one crucial victory, he connected for ringers on 70-percent of his tosses while his opponent virtually matched that number.
“If somebody was doing really well, I’d just beat him anyway,” McCown said. “If I was having a bad game, a guy would do a little worse.”
In most sporting competitions, what matters most isn’t how you start, but how you finish. After his experience in Wichita Falls, McCown knows that for sure.
“I was hot when it counted,” he said.
McCown’s wife, Donra, has also had significant success in competitive horseshoes. Among her accolades are Missouri Horseshoe Pitchers Association (MOHPA) Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year awards, and she has been ranked among the top-20 women in the world.
Meanwhile, Virgle has also earned MOHPA Rookie of the Year honors, and has been a state class winner and Player of the Year on multiple occasions.
The McCowns don’t have to travel far to pitch horseshoes, as they have a large indoor venue called Good Luck Courts on their property, which is outfitted with three regulation clay-pit courts and frequently hosts local and regional tournaments. They each pitched this week at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia and will compete in September at the state tournament in Wentzville.
“We’ve met thousands of people and made many close friends pitching horseshoes,” Virgle said. “When you’re doing this, you just don’t often run into people who aren’t nice.”
The NHPA World Tournament First was staged in 1909. This year, it featured about 1,100 pitchers from many states and several countries competing in various age categories in men’s, women’s and junior classifications. Missouri had the second-most entries among states represented (behind only Texas), and two Show-Me State residents finished in the top three in the senior men’s division, as Excello resident Larry McAfee placed third behind Dunlap and McCown.
“You have to love the sport to compete at this level, because it’s not easy,” McCown said. “When I got down to my last two games and I knew I was going to finish high, I really felt the pressure.”
This was McCown’s 10th trip to the World Tournament, which is staged in a different city each year. What was one of the keys to his success this time?
“I practiced my butt off for this,” he said.
GET INVOLVED LOCALLY
Virgle and Donra McCown welcome newcomers to Good Luck Courts, and participants in matches will always be paired against people with similar talent and experience. For more information about pitching horseshoes indoors in Bucyrus, call 417-967-2791. The venue is located on Highway 17 about two miles west of Highway 38.