More than luck keeps horseshoe champ on top

Jerry Melissa is ranked among the top competitive horseshoe players in Canada, having twice dominated

Jerry Melissa has championed competitive horseshoes on Vancouver Island for more than 40 years. He practises every morning at the ball park in Youbou and encourages the public to join him.

Jerry Melissa is ranked among the top competitive horseshoe players in Canada, having twice dominated the national championships and winning the B.C. championship title seven times, but don’t chalk any of that up to luck.

“Despite the fact that the horseshoe is a symbol of luck, the game is strictly skill,” he said.

For this very reason, Melissa started playing horseshoes competitively in 1973 after years as a top tournament 5-pin bowler and being an excellent golfer.

“I became frustrated with both games because golf, as you know, is about 60 per cent skill, 40 per cent luck. Five-pin bowling is 50 per cent skills, 50 per cent luck,” he said. “I wanted to play a sport that was 95 per cent skill and five per cent luck.”

That’s how he settled on horseshoes.

“With practice and a little bit of talent, you can hit a high level of achievement because luck is a very little percentage.”

Melissa is passionate about the sport and throws 100 “shoes” every day at the baseball field in Youbou, where he lives.

The 2016 season is off to a good start for him with three straight tournament victories, the latest being at the Port Alberni Open on June 5. He said he looks forward to helping his fellow members of the Victoria Horseshoe Club host the national horseshoe championships at Glanford Park in August. More than 150 players from across the country are expected to attend.

Melissa said horseshoes is more popular than most people expect.

“It’s played by more people than golf. But [that’s] the backyard variety. They don’t play competitive. They prefer the picnic-style of throwing shoes, whether it be doubles or singles and they have a great, great time,” he said.

With not as many competitive players participating in sanctioned tournaments, Melissa has to do a lot of travelling in order to find more players in his skill category.

He said while the backyard horseshoe player (or “pitcher”) typically gets between two and six “ringers” for every hundred tosses, Melissa and other A-players typically throw an average of 70 ringers for every 100 tosses.

In the adult men’s category, pitchers throw at a distance of 40 feet while women, juniors (under 19) and elders (over 65) throw at 30 feet. Melissa cited strengthened hand-eye coordination as one of the game’s many benefits, and the fact people in wheelchairs or with other physical handicaps can still participate.

According to Melissa, contrary to popular opinion, horseshoes is not only popular among retirees. In fact, 19-year-old Lindsay Hodgins of Duncan is a world champion horseshoe player in the junior category. This year will be her first competing in the adult category.

“She will probably be non-beatable for the next umpteen years,” said Egan.

The 2016 Canadian Horseshoe Championships will be held Aug. 17-20 at the Victoria Horseshoe Club.