KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Bristol 17-year-old Brianna McCormick was in the title match at the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association World Championship on Aug. 11 and she found herself 11 points behind Heather Feavel of Wisconsin.
McCormick ratcheted up her game, started throwing ringers and earned the next 14 points.
The rising senior at Mount Abraham Union High School pulled away from Feavel and won the match 40-29, hitting ringers nearly two out of every three throws.
McCormick’s father, Brian, said she was smiling ear to ear, but she was so excited she couldn’t even croak out the result of her final throw to the scorekeeper.
“After the last box I was so happy I couldn’t say anything,” said McCormick, the 2012 Girls World Champ.
McCormick may have been speechless, but her aunt Debra Brown wasn’t.
“I gave a war whoop,” Brown said. “I have never seen her so focused. She made seven doubles to finish the game.”
Making an impression on Debra Brown on the horseshoe court is no small matter. At the same tournament, held in Knoxville, Tenn., Brown claimed second place in the Women’s A class. It was her highest finish in five appearances at the Worlds.
McCormick is in her ninth season pitching horseshoes. She and Brown pitch with the Sodbusters Horseshoe Club, which practices and hosts tournaments every summer at the Case Street Community Club facility off Route 116 in Middlebury.
Horseshoes is something of a family tradition. Brown’s husband, Michael, also competed at the Worlds. Sodbuster Brian Simmons, who is engaged to McCormick’s aunt Georgia, won the Men’s Class A World Championship title in 2011 and also competed at this month’s World Championships.
Simmons said he just had a bad tournament. He normally pitches at a rate of 84 percent ringers, but in Knoxville he hit only about 70 percent. He placed sixth overall, with a 10-5 record in the final round.
McCormick’s cousin Nick Preston of Bristol was the 2004 Boys World Champion horseshoe pitcher. During a weekly practice at the Case Street courts this week, McCormick recalled a conversation she had with Preston after he won his world title.
“I told my cousin that one day I was going to be world champion, and I was right,” she said.
She has worked hard for years to achieve that goal. McCormick freely gives her secret to success:
“Practice. Lots and lots of practice.”
She has a horseshoe pitching pit at home in Bristol, and she practices every day in the spring and summer — 200 shoes a day. She and Brown threw shoes on some of the warmer days this past winter.
She also had to raise money to pay for her trip to Knoxville. She and her family held a raffle, and her dad sold concessions at tournaments earlier in the season to raise travel money, as well.
McCormick was pitted against boys in her preliminary matches because she was so dominant in the girls’ class.
In the final round she went 5-0, hitting ringers 60.53 percent of the time. Going into the finals she was throwing around 50 percent.
She won a trophy, a $600 scholarship, and a patch that tells people she is THE Girls World Champion.
How does it feel?
“It’s awesome!” she said.
BROWN CLAIMS SECOND
Brown, a Bristol resident, also had a very successful tournament. She was seeded third coming out of the Women’s Class A preliminaries, where she threw 76 percent ringers. In the final round Brown won 12 and lost only 3 with a 73.68 ringer percentage.
The women’s champion, Joan Elmore of Tennessee, went 15-0 in match competition with an 84.62 ringer percentage to win her fourth consecutive title.
Brown has been playing since 1981. She went to the Worlds in 1983, but then took a break from serious competition while she raised her children.
But she returned to serious competition once her children grew up and she returned to the World Championships four years ago, when she placed seventh. Her placing has improved ever since.
“I’ve been fourth, I’ve been third, now I’m second … I’ve never been the highest finisher,” Brown said.
She seems intent on bringing her final placing up one more notch. As with McCormick, practice is her key.
Brown has one other secret that she takes into competition.
“I go out really, really focused on the stick,” she said.
At this month’s world championship, Brown found her competitive juices flowing in a new direction. Although the NHPA competition is mostly about earning bragging rights, the winners do get a couple bucks to sweeten the deal.
“I’ve never competed for the money,” Brown said. “Then at one point I said to myself, ‘Hey, if I win this game I’ll get an extra $175.’”
And she did win that game.
But it can’t really be the money that motivates her. Brown claimed $1,300 in total prize money for winning second place; but that probably didn’t cover travel expenses for the two-week tournament.
In addition to McCormick, the Browns and Simmons, three other Sodbusters also competed at the World Championships: Georgia McCormick, Ron Williamson and Destinnie Wilke.
The Sodbusters were playing at the state tournament in Bennington this past weekend (results weren’t available in time for this edition of the Independent).
PROS COMING TO TOWN
This coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Sodbusters will host a tournament for professional horseshoe pitchers. The Green Mountain Challenge is one of six Horseshoe Pitching Pro Tour tournaments this year. The event marks the first time the pro tour will venture into New England, said Simmons, who is organizing the event with Michael Brown, and it’s expected to be the biggest tournament in the tour’s three-year history.
Brown has lined up around 100 local sponsors. Simmons expects 50-60 competitors. The top pros can win $1,000.
Friday night competition will feature an “Open Division” that allows players below the minimum tour average to participate in the Pro Tour events. It also has a lower entry fee: $30. This division is for players whose ringer average ranges between 0-39 percent.
The Division I pros will pitch on Saturday and Sunday beginning at 11 a.m. The public is invited to watch the action at the horseshoe pitching courts in Middlebury at the intersection of Case Street and Quarry Road.