Shoe Biz Profile - June 2001


Originally Written by Jeanette Claas

For those who know Charlie Killgore, "special" seems too ordinary a word to describe the gentleman who shares the spotlight in this issue of Shoe Biz. For those who do not know Charlie, it is my privilege to share with you a story of a man and his love of "horseshoes".

Charlie was born on a farm on the outskirts of a town called Stewartsville (20 miles southeast of St. Joseph) on August 5, 1930. He is one of five children, his mother, soon to be 90 years old, still resides in Stewartsville. Charlie attended a small school in this rural community, was a sports athlete and graduated with the class of 1947. Charlie farmed here with his father until 1964. He went to work for Sur-gro Plant Food Company and is still employed there at the present time as the Operations' Manager.

In 1951 Charles was drafted into the Army. He is a veteran of the Korean War. His basic training was at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. Being tall of stature, intelligent and "good-looking", Charlie was asked to serve in General Gavin's Honor Guard in Germany. (General Gavin was the fella who led the paratroopers through the Normandy invasion during World War II.)

Charlie played "backyard" horseshoes with his family on special occasions as he was growing up. When he was in his late twenty's, Charlie read in the town's newspaper there was to be a horseshoe tournament held at the local fairground in Stewartsville. Well, he thought, he could beat his brothers and uncles, possibly he could just beat some of those older fellows who played in the fair tournaments. The outcome of this tournament proved to be a turning point for Charlie. He didn't even get a smell. If he expected to win in competition, he would have to take his horseshoes more seriously. And he did. Lillard Pinion was one of the horseshoe pitchers who pitched in that event. He so impressed Charlie, that he began pitching over a thousand horseshoes on Sunday afternoons until he got ringer after ringer. He did such damage to his shoulders, he had to cut back and then brought the practice down to 100-200 shoes per day. (The same routine continues to this day!)

Charlie has always been a supporter of his town's school, and volunteered his service over the years as scorekeeper, timekeeper and stats person in the school's athletic events and this is where Rita entered into his life. Rita taught school there and he had seen her around town; the day came when he finally asked her to a church event that his son was singing in. When Charlie met Rita she loved dancing, he loved horseshoes. Being the mature people that they were they compromised. Rita would learn to pitch horseshoes and Charlie would become a dancer. They married in 1977. Twenty three years later Rita has pitched in many horseshoe tournaments but Charlie never learned to dance.

Soon after Rita came into Charlies' life, she made her first trip to a world horseshoe tournament. She wasn't much into horseshoes at that time. Vicki Winston remembers telling Rita that she could see where her annual summer vacation was going to take her every year. She replied, "Oh, surely not! Charlie doesn't need to attend every year." Vicki, smilingly, passed this on to Charlie at which he commented, "Well, I guess Rita can stay at home if she wants, but I know where I'm going." We all know since that time Rita has become an avid participant in the sport and when not pitching, can most times be found keeping score and cheering Charlie on.

He participated in his first State Tournament in 1957 in Class B and averaged about 46%. In 1964, he qualified into Class A and averaged 63.3%, so he was beginning to move up in the ringer department. In 1969, he placed 3rd in Class A with a ringer average of 66.1%. He was the only pitcher who defeated the state champ, Dave Baker that year. He was a presence that made himself known from that time on in the Men's Championship Class, finishing 3rd in 1973, 2nd in 1974, averaging 73.2% and only losing to Dave Baker.

In 1975, Charles finally reached his goal and became the Men's State Champion, with a record of 8-1 and a ringer average of 66.8%. In 1976 and 1977 he finished second. In 1978 he tied with Baker for 1st place, but lost in the play-off, averaging 70.1% for the tournament. In 1979 and 1980 he placed second again, In 1981 and 1982 he placed third. In 1983 he placed 4th, but had the high ringer average of 70.4% In 1984 he was fourth again, but in 1985 he won his second Men's State Championship winning with a record of 7-0 and a ringer average of 75.9%. In 1986 began the reign of Alan Francis, one of Missouri's toughest competitors. When 1995 came around, Charlie wanted the State Championship title badly, but it was not to be. Charles has pitched in the Men's Championship Class at the State Tournament during 31 years of his horseshoe career. He has missed only one State Tournament due to a torn ligament in his shoulder.

Besides state wide level, Charles is known very well in the national level. He made his dedut in the Men's Championship Class in the World Tournament in 1973 finishing with a 66%. Some other of the great finishes in the world competition are:
    1976    16th place    74.5%
    1977    13th place    77.4%
    1979    18th place    73.4%

If Charlie didn't make the Championship Class he still strived to finish at top with three World Class titles:
    1978    Class B    1st place    70.7%
    1983    Class B    1st place    73.5%
    1999    Class C    1st place    55.5%

In a 1983 World Tournament game with Jim Knisley, Charles and Jim went 112 shoes and each had the identical number of ringers and averaged 79.5%. However, Knisley won the game 40-33 proving that it is important to land your shoe close to the peg even if you don't get a ringer. Charlie has attended all but two World Tournaments since 1973.

Earl Winston recalls a game that Charlie pitched against Art Tyson in Des Moines, IA in 1978. Earl says he was to get the playoff game going and was told to ask the pitchers if they wanted to play just one game or make it two out of three. Tyson couldn't make up his mind and it was getting late. After stalling for some time, Tyson decided he wanted 2 out of 3. Well, Art won the first game, but Charlie won the next two. Charles drove back home to Plattsburg yet that night by then in the wee hours, with his Class B trophy next to him.

Don Harris has been traveling with Charlie to horseshoe tournaments across the country for over 30 years. He used to refer to Charlie as the "Iron Man." He could drive all day and all night. All he needed was a little ice chest with crushed ice in it. He kept it in the middle of the front seat and would stick a little piece of it in his mouth. Don considers Charlie one of his best friends, except for the one game he remembers at the 1978 MO State Tournament held at St. Joseph; Class A, 12 players, six games in the morning and five in the afternoon. Don played Dave Baker in the AM beating him 52-47. (That was the only game Baker lost.) He played Charlie the same morning. During that game Don missed his first ringer but put the second one on, the shoe landing looking directly at him. Charlie threw his first shoe and leaned it against the stake. He then threw his second shoe. It hit Don's shoe that was facing him knocking it off and hooked on the one that was leaning against the stake. He put it on as well as the one he threw giving Charlie six points. The final score: Don 49 - Charlie - 50 points. (PAIN) Don had to play Ron Frakes the last game and Charlie played Baker, Ron beat Don on 48 pts. and Baker beat Charlie. The end results: Baker won 1st, 10-1 and 75.1%, Charlie was 2nd with a 72.1%, Ron Frakes took 3rd with a 70.5% and Don placed 4th with a 70.3%. Don lost two games, one by 1 point and one by 2 points and ended up in 4th place. (PAIN! PAIN! PAIN!) the friendship that developed between these two fellows have weathered many horseshoe tournaments. Their good times together have captured many horseshoe moments for them to share.

Charlie has many memorable moments in his horseshoe career, but he feels his biggest accomplishment was at the Greenville, Ohio World Tournament in 1977 when he finished with a 77% average, the best tournament he ever pitched. He thinks he came in either 12th or 13th place. The outstanding pitcher that comes to his mind is Elmer Hohl of Canada. Elmer competed against the top pitchers in the world, all of whom were pitching 80 plus or better and Elmer would win.

During these busy years of horseshoe pitching, farming, and raising a family, Charlie also had another hobby; he loved to bowl. Some years ago, the Plattsburg Bowling Lanes were about to close and Charlie couldn't stand to see it shut down so he and a partner took them over. Today, Charlie bowls on 3 leagues a week, with a high average of 185. He has slipped a little from his previous 202 average. He competes at the state and national level in bowling each year. They have owned the bowling lanes since 1989. (Does this man ever sleep?)

In summary, Charlie's accomplishments include 2-time Men's MO State Champion, 6-time Men's Runner-Up and 1995 Double's Runner-Up. In World Tournament performances from 1973 thru 1986, his overall performance average was 72%. He has held a MOHPA office for thirty years. You never see Charlie siting idle on the sidelines. No matter where or what time of day, if there is a horseshoe event, Charlie is there helping in anyway he can. From keeping score, digging pits, carrying water, being a judge, sweeping walkways, seeking volunteers to help at a state tournament, to driving a trailer across the state, Charlie does it all! Missouri State Fair Tournament Directors, Earl & Vicki Winston, says Charlie had been invaluable to them serving as the official judge for many years and doing whatever he can to help them out. His actions not only take place at the state level, but includes the national level. He has pulled the NHPA storage trailer many miles and has stored it at his home in Plattsburg. He also stores the MOHPA office trailer and pulls it to the state tournament sites. Never wanting applause, he is just there when needed. it is no wonder that Charles was inducted into the MO Horseshoe Pitcher's Hall of Fame in 1989, a honor he so well deserved.

Today, Charlie and Rita are still busy people. After 23 years of teaching elementary school, Rita retired several years ago, but now is selling real estate. With Charlie's job, his farming, the bowling alley, his bowling and horseshoe tournaments there is not much spare time in their lives. Charlie and Rita share 4 sons and 7 grandchildren, it's hard to believe that Charlie is 70 years, the picture of good health, he is definitely a man on a mission, living life to its fullest. His future plans... Charlie is still hungry for that 3rd State title.

Charlie's calm and cool demeanor matches his pitching style as he gracefully delivers his 1 3/4 turn. Surely the following slogan was written for Charlie... "Fly like a butterfly, Sting like a bee, Spin through the air, and come down for three!" For the time and service he has given to the MOHPA, for all that he has accomplished in his horseshoe career, for his dedication that has helped to make our organization one of the finest in the U.S.A., the horseshoe pitchers of Missouri salute this "special" person who has quietly done so many things in his own "special" way!