While the wide world of sports is always a feast for the eyes, no matter what the sport, it can also be a virtual feast for the ears as well.
Go ahead. Close your eyes and listen to some of the most distinctive sounds sure to paint vivid pictures in the mind.
The crack of a bat as it meets the baseball.
The ping of a driver as it meets the golf ball on a tee.
The swish of a net as the basketball arcs through a goal.
The metallic ringing of a well-pitched horseshoe as it swings around the stake.
It's this last sweet sound that Wirth's Archie Matheny has been hearing for the past half-decade, that of the shoe hitting the pin.
After getting interested in horseshoe pitching as a youth, thanks to his father's love of the sport, Mathney, 75, started pitching competitively in Iowa before moving to Arkansas some 40 years ago, bringing his enthusiasm for the pits with him.
Matheny, a member of the Arkansas Horseshoe Pitchers' Association (AHPA) Hall of Fame, recently notched another championship title to his ever growing resume when he won the Championship Class title at the North Central Arkansas Horseshoe Pitchers' Association's (NCAHPA) tournament in late July at Old Hickory Park in Mountain Home.
"We pitch in the AHPA and the NCAHPA, which is separate from the AHPA," said Matheny, who pitched from a distance of 30 feet. "The North Central Association is made up of pitchers from northern Arkansas and southeast Missouri, and we usually have around 15-40 pitchers at the tournaments. The Association in Arkansas (which was founded in 1981) has about 100 members from over the state."
Matheny tossed 167 ringers out of 298 shoes, good for 64-percent average at the July 22 tourney in Mountain Home.
"It's a round-robin tournament where you play everybody in your class," Matheny said. "I went 5-0 in the last one."
Winning horseshoe pitching tournaments is nothing new to Mathney, as he has pitched in 11 events this year, racking up eight title wins and a 62.21-percent average for the year.
The next big tournament on the docket for Matheny and the rest of the pitchers in the state is the Arkansas State Tournament, sanctioned by the AHPA and scheduled for Labor Day weekend in Fayetteville. Horseshoe pitching season in Arkansas generally runs from April through October.
And the AHPA Tournament is where Matheny has left an indelible mark in Arkansas pitching lore, winning back-to-back titles in 1985 and 1986, pitching from a 40-foot distance. Add to this four titles from 30 feet away, and you certainly have a Hall of Fame pitcher in Matheny.
While all the titles he has won are no doubt special for Matheny, the '85 championship was remarkable as he battled through a case of heat exhaustion to claim victory.
"The tournament was in Hot Springs in October that year, but it was really hot," he said. "I pitched three or four games, losing two of them, and then I could hardly walk. I just wobbled when I tried. The heat had got to me. Somebody put some wet towels around my neck, and then I felt better and went on to win the thing."
Along with his championship hardware from the AHPA State Tournaments, Matheny has also inserted his name into the record book on several occasions, including 1996 when he grabbed the record for most ringers in a complete tournament (305), and most doubles, one man, in a complete tournament (95). Matheny also holds the state tournament record for most consecutive four-deads in one game, three in 1987.
Matheny, who currently favors pitching a dead-soft, 2-pound, 10-ounce Ted Allen shoe, has also participated in past World Horseshoe Pitching Tournaments, where some of the top pitchers in the sport gather.
"We've been there four of five times, but never have did real good," said Matheny. The next World Tournament is slated for July 2007 in Ardmore, Okla.
Like any sport, just because the competition is high at the top levels, that doesn't mean that the casual pitcher can't find a place to have fun at a local court.
"The North Central Association welcomes anyone who wants to pitch to come to Old Hickory Park in Mountain Home," Matheny said. "They usually practice Tuesday and Thursday nights, and if anyone is interested, they should get there around 5 p.m. They'd sure like to have them there."
"It takes a lot of practice, of course, but coaching can help when you first start to throw," said Matheny.
Whether in Wirth, Mountain Home, Fayetteville, or points unknown, it's a sure bet that for the spring and summer months you'll find Matheny at a horseshoe pitching court somewhere.
And don't worry, if you can't see him, just listen for the sweet sound of ringers.