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The Pitching Dutchmen

Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Article July 4, 2003

 

The Pitching Dutchmen have been thrust into the public eye once again!  We have now received wide-spread media coverage for the second time in a year!  Last summer the Dutchmen were nationally published in Diversion magazine, a recreational magazine for those in the medical profession.  This time we were the topic of a front-page Sports article in the July 4, 2003 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.  The reporter, Frank Fitzpatrick, contacted us via email after seeing The Quoit Pits web site on the internet.  He was looking for an unusual or unique sport for the holiday edition of the paper, and quoits seemed to fit quite nicely.  The Pitching Dutchmen invited him to one of our Wednesday night pitches, and Frank, along with Inquirer photographer John Slavin, drove the long distance far into the "Boonies" of Lancaster County to get their story and photos.  Below is a reprint of the article that appeared on the front page of the Sports section, in living color!

 

      

The article was printed prominently on the front page of the sports section and was continued on Page 9 (right).

 

Game of toss from another time

Quoits once thrived in Lancaster County.  A few folks want to see a rebirth.

 

Inquirer Staff Writer

 

Except for the backyard setting and the recurring anvil-like clang of metal striking metal, it might have been a Wednesday night bowling league.

 

Overweight men clutched dripping-wet cans of beer, smoked cigars, and laughed as they distractedly hurled heavy objects at faraway pins. A fine shot produced a great whoop, a poor one guffaws. Spectators clustered informally around them. Some observed. Some socialized. Some kibitzed.

 

But bowling wouldn't have interested the Pitching Dutchmen. Their game is quoits, and they see themselves as keepers of the flame for a sport that, while once played throughout Lancaster County, has been nearly forgotten since World War II.

 

Quoits pitchers gather at Troy Freys home weekly to play a game similar to

horseshoes. Among them are Greg Sollenberger (left) and Chris Lutz.

 

"Outside of Southeastern Pennsylvania, you mention quoits and people look at you like you're crazy," said Troy Frey, 42, who, in the well-manicured backyard of his suburban tract home, hosts a few dozen pitchers who gather weekly to participate in the horseshoes-like game.

 

"I grew up here, and I had never played quoits. My grandfather used to tell me that when he was young, every little town around here had a quoits team and that they competed against each other in leagues," said Frey, an out-of-work computer-systems administrator.

 

A friend of Frey's parents had a pit, and Frey quickly grew to love the game. He recruited neighbors and friends to form the Dutchmen, established a Web site (www.quoitpits.com) and, utilizing the Internet, unearthed other pockets of quoits pitchers in the counties north and west of Philadelphia.

 

Now, thanks to Frey, a pudgy father of two young girls who is known by his friends as "The Quoit Master," these disparate groups hope not only to resurrect interest in the sport but to create a governing body, standardize the rules, and host a national tournament.

 

That latter ambition will become a reality on Sept. 13 in Gilbertsville, Montgomery County, where Frey's organization, along with fellow quoiters in Pottstown, Quakertown and the Lehigh Valley, will conduct the first National Quoits Championships (prize money: $2,000).

 

"My dad and my [grandfather] played," Brad Kramer of Mount Joy said. "But then, for the rest of us, it just sort of got lost in time. Everybody turned to horseshoes. Maybe now is the time when it comes back."

 

They say that this area's many Amish and Mennonite farmers still pitch quoits - large metal doughnuts - in homemade pits on their properties. Though few outside those secretive communities have witnessed those games, evidence of the passion for them exists in rural hardware stores.

 

"They're some of the few places where you can buy quoits," Frey said. "Some of the Amish and Mennonites still make their own quoits in homemade foundries. But more and more are buying them at those hardware stores."

 

     

 

One of the Wednesday night Sessions in Troy Frey's backyard is in full swing.  On Sept. 13 the action will be in Gilbertsville.  Frey's Pitching Dutchmen, as well as quoits pitchers from Pottstown, Quakertown, and the Lehigh Valley will stage the first National Quoits Championships, which will offer prize money of $2000.

 

Quoits [pronounced KWATES] is, in most respects, similar to horseshoes. The two biggest differences are the shape of the tossed items - quoits are round - and the distance between pins, which is 40 feet for horseshoes, 21 for quoits.

 

In Lancaster County, at least, a quoit weighs either three or four pounds and is made of steel, brass or bronze. But in the few locales besides Pennsylvania where quoits is played, the discs might be larger or smaller, made of rubber, and thrown at pins embedded in slate or sand.

 

"And the rules vary, too," Frey said. "That's why we're looking to form a U.S. Quoits Association."

 

 

 

The pits - Frey has two sets in his yard, along with lights for nighttime pitching and two electronic scoring devices - are three feet square and encased in wood. The pins are set four inches above a base of wet clay."The night before we pitch, I come out and wet down the pits," Frey said. "Then I put a wooden cover on each pit, and they're nice and moist when we get started."

Landing in the moist clay, the heavy discs stick like darts in cork. The object, as in horseshoes, is to get them as close as possible to the pin. Pitchers can collect either one, two (for a leaner) or three (for a ringer) points on each toss and must accumulate 21 to win.  A ringer is official only when a quoit encircles a pin right side up. If it lands upside down, it's an illegal "she-ringer."

 

It's believed that the game's origins reach back to the ancient Greeks' fascination with the discus. At some point, they stopped throwing the discus strictly for distance and began aiming at metal pins in the ground.  By the 14th century, the game had spread to the British Isles, where it now enjoys its greatest popularity.

 

"It's still very popular in England, Scotland and Wales," Frey said. "When the Puritans came to Massachusetts, they brought quoits with them. It eventually spread throughout the early colonies. But sometime after World War II, for some reason, it began to disappear."

 

Watching the Pitching Dutchmen, it quickly becomes apparent that most of the participants are not quite as serious as Frey. They laugh and joke and offer as many excuses as golfers.  When one shot not only missed the pin but landed two feet short of the wooden box, the tosser, wearing a bright red shirt and a straw hat with a tassel hanging from its rim, grabbed his back in mock pain.

 

"Ow!" he yelled. "That's the first I've thrown this year."

 

Another errant quoit slammed into the front of the pit's wooden enclosure, producing an explosion of chips.

 

"You're killing my wood!" Frey yelled.

 

When a late-arriving player asked if there was any diet soda, the ample-bellied Frey chuckled: "Not here, my friend."

But there are others, like Kramer, who are focused pitchers.  "Quoits is such a great game," he said. "I like it so much more than horseshoes. The pins aren't as far apart, so you can have women and children play, too."

 

There are a few women among the Dutchmen, though the group consists primarily of middle-aged Lancaster County men. Their name is a kind of tongue-in-cheek tribute to the region's heritage, and each pitcher has selected a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch name as a nickname. Randy Flick, for example, is "Levi Good." Gene Shaiebly is "Geney Buttersnips." Jared Hess is "Jebodiah Heffelfinger."

 

Frey's Web site includes photos from each week's event and invites new and old pitchers to "bring your own beer, cigars and snacks" to the Wednesday evening sessions. Players bring so much beer that when Diversions magazine recently ran a spread on the Pitching Dutchmen, it airbrushed out all the cans.

 

But the cigars, Frey insists, serve a noble purpose.  "On hot nights," he said, "they keep the bugs away."