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Kickapoo Ringers to celebrate 40 years at the Gays Mills Apple Festival
horseshoes temp gm pits
This photo of the 1993 Apple Festival Horseshoe Tournament shows the new pits, located near the Congregational Church. After high water and collapse of the sewer main behind Bobs Barber Shop, the storied traditional location of the pits, they had to be relocated on an emergency basis by Jim Maybee.

GAYS MILLS - Horseshoe pitching enthusiasts in Gays Mills have a lot to celebrate this year. The 2017 Apple Festival Horseshoe Tournament will mark the 40-year anniversary of the annual event.

“This tournament is “As Gays Mills as Apple Pie,” event organizer Russ Brockway observed. “It all started with ‘Robert Lee’s Invitational Horseshoe Tournament’ out in back of his main street Gays Mills barbershop. “

“I knew when I opened my shop in Gays Mills that I wanted to have horseshoe pits out back,” Robert Lee explained. “It is a nice, old-fashioned activity and I wanted to do my part to keep this country tradition alive.”

Robert Lee worked with his father Elmer Lee and Amel Oppriecht to construct the first pits. The concrete was donated by Prairie  Sand & Gravel of Gays Mills.

“Amel was a mason, and he had incredible technique and skills to lay those pits out behind the shop perfectly,” Lee remembered.

The founding fathers of the Apple Festival Horseshoe Tournament were really Robert Lee and his father Elmer Lee, Amel Oppriecht and Maurice Sanborn. All but Robert Lee are now deceased.

Two other avid players that helped to build the Kickapoo Ringers Horseshoe Club that grew out of the Apple Festival Tournament tradition were Arvid Burkum (deceased) and Jim Maybee.

 Robert Lee’s First Invitational Horseshoe Tournament was held on Thursday, July 21, 1977 behind Robert’s Barber Shop in Gays Mills. Maurice Sanborn’s regulation horseshoes were used for the tournament, and Robert’s father, Elmer Lee, helped to construct the courts, along with Francis ‘Dutch’ Heisz, who welded and anchored the stakes, which were donated by Bill Baker.

 “Of all the founding fathers of this tradition, it’s only Jim and I left at this point,” Lee said. “We really appreciate Russ Brockway taking up the torch and contributing his youthful enthusiasm to the endeavor.”

In 1993, the area had a very rainy summer and a combination of high water, and then the collapse of the sewer behind the barbershop resulted in the club losing their horseshoe pits.

“We were faced with the Apple Festival Tournament approaching without a facility,” Lee remembered. “It was Jim Maybee, more than anyone else, that took charge and found us our temporary new home down in Lion’s Park, near the Congregational Church. The problem was, that location was prone to flooding too. Now we have a nice, permanent location for the pits that stays high and dry.”

“After all those setbacks, Maurice Sanborn and I had to get the pits moved before Apple Fest,” Jim Maybee remembers. “We built eight pits by the ice skating rink, and everyone liked having the tournament there. It was right downtown, and lots of people would stop by to watch.”

Maybee said that eventually the pits had to be moved from that site to one further over in the Lion’s Park because of flooding.

“After rebuilding the pits two times, I just decided to find a place for them up on high ground,” Maybee said. “I talked with Jimmer Chellevold and we were able to move the pits to their current high and dry location near the Log Cabin Village.”

This year, over the July 4th weekend, the first sanctioned horseshoe match ever in Gays Mills was held. The Kickapoo Valley Open was considered to be a raging success by all accounts, and it is hoped that this will become an annual event.

Now, with the help of lots of well-wishers and volunteers, and a grant from the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, the Kickapoo Valley Ringers will have their own permanent, sanctioned six-pit facility next to the Log Cabin Village Park in Gays Mills. The grant will be repaid to the foundation over time through proceeds from events and charitable contributions.

The project is coming together with help from lots of volunteers. Jim Showen is making a sign, Rick Bell has run electricity to the site, Brockway Trucking & Excavating will contribute T-shirts for the founding members, and Travis Williams has volunteered to do the necessary excavating.

There will be a volunteer workday in October to complete work on the site.

Apple Fest tournament

On Saturday, Sept. 23, 10-10:30 a.m., the tournament will kick off with a ceremony honoring Ringers Founding Fathers, Robert E Lee, Jim Maybee, Rick Swenson and Jack Heisz, and those deceased, including Elmer Lee, Amel Oppriecht, Maurice Sanborn, Duffy Brockway and Jim Hatlan. Russ Brockway will be honored for his work in creating the sanctioned competition facility. The ceremony will take place near the Log Cabin Village.

“Having this state and national-sanctioned horseshoe facility is absolutely fantastic,” Lee said. “I never dreamed that this could happen. Now our tournament results will be in the official state and national record books. Russ Brockway and members of the local club deserve lots of thanks for making this happen and helping to keep this tradition alive in our community.”

Jim Maybee echoed Lee’s sentiments.

“I can’t travel around anymore like the young guys,” Maybee said. “But I still love to go down and play on Wednesdays, and if people show up, I’ll get them throwing. We just like to have a good time, and all are welcome.”

Maybe said that he was grateful to see the younger folk in the community picking up the torch and keeping the tradition alive. He said having the sanctioned pits will be a great thing for the community and he wishes the team well.

Following the ceremony, the competition will kick off with a drawing for partners in Saturday’s ‘Luck of the Draw Doubles’ play. Competition starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. As in previous years, prizes will include handmade trophies and some cash prizes.

On Sunday, competition will continue with the ‘Bring Your Own Partner’ competition. Sign up will be open from 10-10:30 a.m.

The entry fee will be $X per entrant.

Riding high from state

Russ Brockway, Gays Mills, is riding high on his second-place tie finish at the Wisconsin Horseshoe Pitchers 2017 State Tournament, Division B. The tournament took place in Beloit over the Labor Day weekend. Not only that, Brockway has also been named as the 2017 Division B Pitcher of the Year.

“The competition was fierce, and the ringer percentages of all the winners was so close, it was really a tough battle,” Brockway remembers. “I was throwing really well, with a 3-0 record, when it started to rain in the third game. It continued to rain all during the fourth game, and they called it off 12-shoes short. When we came back to play, the guy who beat me for second played really well and he wound up taking second.”

The first place winner in Division B had a 38.93 percent average, and was 7-0. The guy who took second was 5-2, with a 39.64 percent ringer average, and Brockway was 5-2 with a 38.21 percent ringer average. The person who took fourth also had a 38.21 percent ringer average.