Arthur Tyson grew up in the old Elm Haven and Brookside projects, where he pitched horseshoes in his backyard seven hour a day seven days a week. He became a champion, ranked number two in the world, with an 83 ringer percentage, and is now the only African-American in the National Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame.
On Saturday he was on hand at De Gale Field to help the newly formed Goffe Street Horseshoe Club up their game and fulfill their dream: A seven or eight-court year-round facility indoors, ideally in the now vacant Goffe Street Armory across the street. Saturday was officially the second annual horsehoe tournament in the park.
There were no horseshoe courts on the grounds of De Gale Field until ten years ago, when a modest, now grass-covered court was put in. Larry Colman and Poky Grant started coming out casually to pitch. Others followed.
Four years ago two new courts were put in, and last year enough people, largely middle aged and older African-American men, were coming out regularly so that the club formed, with Isaac Pierce as its president.
It has about 12 members, including three non-playing female members, monthly dues of 20 bucks, spiffy T-shirts, and a lot of sweat equity to help maintain the courts over.
The courts, owned by the city, are made with dirt, not the higher standard clay court, where the shoe sticks better, said Pierce.
The New Haven Horse Shoe Club over on Springside Avenue in Westville is a professional facility, whereas the guys tossing in De Gale Field are strictly “backyard,” or amateur for the sake of the fun of it, said Pierce.
That means the rules and scoring are a little different, but the court should at least be level, not with sunken pits around the stake, and with a surface better than the current dirt.
On Saturday, Tyson was a draw to give incentive to the players like O.J. Jackson (pictured tossing with the champ) and also to call attention to the condition of the courts, said David Newton, a retired city parks and rec employee who is helping club members lobby for better maintenance.
As the singles got started, Tyson said he wanted to toss from the other side of the stake, where Jackson was shooting from. He tried to make his case to Pierce, because in the professional game each player tosses two shoes one after the other, and when one player is on the court, the other is off.
In the games of Saturday’s annual tournament, it was “backyard rules,” meaning opposing players shared the pit, and first come, first there, apparently. In the backyard version, players also take turns tossing the shoes, one each.
That didn’t keep the pro, now 70 and retired and focusing more on bocce, rom holding two shoes in hand as he negotiated for a different side of the pole.
He didn’t prevail in his argument. “It’s backyard,” Pierce ruled goodnaturedly.
When their first game concluded, Tyson, playing on a team with his brother Jake, had prevailed 25 to 13.
On the sloping hillside beneath the trees above the park about 20 spectators relaxed on blankets or in beach chairs while club member and cook Clyde King prepared the hot dogs and burgers. In the distance at the corner of County Street a police police office in a cruiser took in the horseshoe action. Newton had touched base withe police as part of organizing Saturday’s event.
Pierce said that even though the game is strictly “backyard,” the courts need more maintaining than the city is prepared to give them, given budget constraints and a changing administration, Newton added.
However they turn out, Pierce and other club members have their eye on an indoor all-weather facility, such as exists in East Hartford, said Pierce.
Then he pointed across the sun-splashed green grass to the vacant armory on Goffe Street. That’s where he’d like to hold future tournaments of the Goffe Street Horseshoe Club.
Anyone interested in joining or in contributing to upgrading the De Gale Field courts can contact Pierce at: 203-812-8220.