Cherokee pitches way into world horseshoe tourney
Cherokee Nation citizen Dione Byrd takes aim at a horseshoe stake July 10 during one of his frequent practice sessions in the Cherry Tree community. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
National Horseshoe Pitching Association patches won by Cherokee Nation citizen Dione Byrd for his placement in recent horseshoe competitions. CHAD HUTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
CHERRY TREE – A lifelong horseshoe pitcher from Adair County says he’s ready to debut on the world stage against the best his sport has to offer.
Cherokee Nation citizen Dione Byrd, of Cherry Tree, qualified this year for the World Horseshoe Tournament, which was slated for July 22 to Aug. 3 in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“As a full-blood Cherokee, I’m really excited representing Adair County in this tournament,” Byrd said. “It took a lot of work to get to this horseshoe tournament. I believe in myself. I believe that I’ll bring something back.”
Born in the Sally Bull Hollow community, Byrd, 56, is a fluent Cherokee speaker who “was always into playing horseshoes.” But despite taking part in horseshoe-pitching events during the years, Byrd never made the leap into world-class competition.
“This is my big step,” he said. “I’m really happy. I’m going to do what I can do. Win or lose I’m still going to be happy coming home because I went to the world horseshoe tournament.”
Byrd is slated to compete in five games per day July 25-27 during the two-week competition, which is organized by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association. Players battle in one of eight divisions and 70-plus classes that match athletes of similar skill, age and gender.
“I know my percentage is 33.72, but when I get there, I’m going to put my percentage up,” Byrd said. “I want to move up. I don’t want to stay in that same class.”
Byrd was placed in what the NHPA calls the E2 Division based on his performance in seasonal events. He competed in four sanctioned tournaments that averaged the players’ top three number of “ringers,” which describes the horseshoe completely surrounding the stake.
“I want to get to that top 10,” he said. “That’s where I want to be.”
Byrd’s wife, Ramona, said Cherokees who play horseshoes with her husband “joke around and stuff, but they’re all real gentlemanly. They always shake hands before they play and all shake hands after they play. They ‘don’t talk smack’ and nobody applauds or says ‘way to go.’”
Byrd said win or lose, he has a smile for every opponent.
“I can come back and win again,” he said. “I see a lot of people around here I play with when they get beat, you can see by their looks they didn’t like that.”
For Byrd, the change in competition this season also comes with a change to the game’s horseshoe pits, which are spaced 40 feet apart. Rather than pitching toward familiar dirt pits, he will be faced with clay pits like those at a recent tournament in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“I kind of was nervous and I didn’t do hardly good,” he said. “I was used to playing in dirt where you can slide them. In clay, when you throw it, it’s going to stick there. I told myself I’ve just got to focus on that pole. I don’t focus on the person I’ve got to play. I just focus on that pole.”
Byrd will be pitching horseshoes alongside seasoned competitors such as United Keetoowah Band citizen Gary Bearpaw, currently ranked third in the world. Bearpaw placed second overall the past two years.
As of July 10, a total of 960 competitors were entered into the world championships. Oklahoma had the fourth-highest number of competitors with 53. With 100 more, Texas leads the pack.
Other Native players from Oklahoma scheduled to compete are Michael Cummings (men’s), Mathew Cummings (men’s), Mitchel Smith (men’s), David Mallory (senior), Logan Ross (junior) and brothers Cale and Lane Matlock (junior).
For more information or results from the world event, visit horseshoepitching.com