The city says a lack of demand and building specifications that didn't fit Seminole City Park doomed the project.
By MAUREEN BYRNE
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 25, 2001
SEMINOLE -- Pete Balkus realizes pitching horseshoes isn't a very popular sport.
Maybe that is why he is having a hard time persuading the city to provide horseshoe courts for its residents.
Four courts were supposed to be included in Seminole City Park's recent $1.1-million renovation, but when the city and Balkus couldn't agree on where to put them, officials dropped the pits from the project.
"Part of the requirements for professional pits is a north-south orientation," said City Manager Frank Edmunds. "We couldn't satisfy that."
When the pits were dropped from the plan, the city's recreation advisory committee decided there wasn't enough of a demand for horseshoe courts in Seminole to find them another home.
"There is no organized league (in Seminole) that enjoys the profession," Edmunds said. "The general public would not utilize that facility."
Yet with no courts available, Balkus counters, people don't even have the opportunity to learn the sport.
"I believe they're an asset to the city," said Balkus, adding that pitching horseshoes is an ideal recreational activity for the public, especially seniors. Balkus, 75, said if the city promoted its horseshoe courts, more people would use them.
According to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, a federation of 60 charters in the United States and Canada, the origin of the sport dates to the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers pitched horseshoes discarded from the horses used to drive their chariots.
The association says an estimated 15-million people in the United States and Canada pitch horseshoes in tournaments, leagues, recreation areas and back yards.
The sport has a large following in Clearwater, where Ed Wright Park is the home of the Clearwater Horseshoe Club. The group has a small clubhouse, 18 pits and about 100 members.
The club's founder, Norman Gaseau, will be inducted into the association's national horseshoe hall of fame in August. He is the fourth Floridian inducted into the hall, which was created in 1966 and has 126 members.
In 1973, Seminole built its first recreation facility: eight horseshoe courts on 113th Street near 71st Avenue. The courts, which once hosted tournaments, had a shed and access to water, which keeps clay pits moist so horseshoes don't bounce.
A few years ago, about a dozen players joined Balkus at the courts. But slowly, he lost his partners through illness or death. Some switched to the Clearwater horseshoe park.
Last year Seminole renovated the 113th Street park. The city added two new tennis courts and a children's area and decided to move the horseshoe courts to Seminole City Park.
So Balkus began throwing horseshoes at two temporary courts in Seminole City Park. But they were demolished when renovations started there in January.
Balkus, a retired power plant engineer, has been playing the sport since 1985 and competes in tournaments throughout the state. But besides Balkus, city officials say, no one else in Seminole has requested horseshoe courts in the city.
"We just haven't seen an interest (in pitching horseshoes) other than Mr. Balkus," Edmunds said. "But we haven't discounted it. We'll take a look at some other locations. We do appreciate his enthusiasm for the sport, and, if possible, we would like to continue that."
Blossom Lake Park, which is near 62nd Terrace N in the Blossom Lake neighborhood, is a possibility, Edmunds said. Balkus has offered to maintain the courts and even donate $100 for the concrete.
"I definitely think a city should provide horseshoe courts," said Ron Deckard of Tampa, president of the Clearwater Horseshoe Club and state director for the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association. "There are definitely players out there who have trouble finding a place to play."