"Yeah, it sure was pretty pathetic," said Gene, a no-nonsense kind of guy.
Jamie and Chris borrowed a set of horseshoes from Yvonne, who carefully removed them from a personalized wooden case. Yvonne tried to keep a beneficent smile on her face as her shoes bounced off the concrete that bordered the court, an experience that must be parallel to a pool shark watching his cue being used to hammer nails. I stopped the carnage after a few tosses.
Gene and Yvonne are the kind of people Trandahl was talking about when he mentioned community pride. Weekend pitchers both, the Ficeks got the idea a few years ago to bring the '89 world tournament to Spearfish. The chamber of commerce, the downtown merchants and the townsfolk helped them raise the $40,000 needed to make the bid, and the city built 16 additional courts—at a cost of $25,000—to make Spearfish look more attractive to tournament representatives. The town was awarded the tournament in 1987.
"Been a lot more work than I thought, though," says Gene. On most days during the preparation for the worlds, Yvonne rushed from her waitressing job at the Valley Cafe on Main Street (try the beef stew for $3.95) to mow lawns and tend to other business at the courts. Gene was resigned to a drop in his locksmith business during the tournament. But they wanted to do it, and they did it.
Pitching horseshoes isn't much of a spectator sport, and I admit that Jamie and Chris were not exactly enthralled by it, but there was something hypnotic about the nightly practice sessions. "I think it's the noises," said Donna. She means the squishy sound of shoes hitting the soft clay, and the gentle clang! when a shoe hits the stake.
We left Spearfish on July 17. It rained and thundered that morning, and the courts were filled with puddles as sad and deep as the frowns on the faces of Gene and Yvonne. But by 10, the sun was out, the tournament was under way, and Gene, who was wearing a green polyester pitching shirt with FICEK and SPEARFISH stitched on the back, was smiling. I pointed to the sunny sky, and Gene gave me the thumbs-up sign as we left. Spearfish does things in style.