DANVILLE — Bob Vandiver strode toward Douglas Park’s 18 horseshoe pits when the national anthem rang through the park’s pavilion speakers. Vandiver stopped dead in his tracks under the shade of a maple tree, removed his white mesh back hat and placed it over his heart.
When the anthem was finished, the three-time defending senior division champion continued to the pits to pursue his fourth straight Illinois State Horseshoe title – something that hasn’t been done in 19 years.
Unlike some in the sport, Vandiver is not a lifelong player. After retiring from TeePak in 2001, the 74-year-old began playing in a weeknight league, and entered his first tournament in 2002 at the urging of his playing partner, Frank Good.
Vandiver was placed into the tournament’s D class and finished the open, his first ever horseshoe tournament, in second place.
From that point, Vandiver knew he had found his post-retirement hobby and registered with the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association (NHPA), so he could begin playing in sanctioned events.
Through each tournament, the NHPA records “ringer percentages,” or the number of times per throws when the horseshoe wraps itself around, and lands, on the post.
This percentage determines the class of the pitcher. After building a horseshoe pit in his backyard to hone his skills, the Ridge Farm native quickly moved from Class C nationwide to Class A nationwide and Class B worldwide, with three Class A state titles and one Class B world title to show for it.
But, to take home another state title, Vandiver will have to go through the raining world-class B champion, George Huntington.
The former fast pitch softball pitcher, and six-handicap golfer, made the 114-mile journey from Effingham in his RV to compete for the title after losing to Vandiver in the championship playoff one year ago. However, this year, Huntington wont just be battling the other players, he will also be battling his body.