Shoe Biz Profile - June 1998


Originally Written by Jeanette Claas

Several years back I was lucky enough to be pitching in an "A" Class Tournament at NMHC when I noticed a pitcher in this class throwing ringer after ringer! Who was that masked man?? No, he didn't wear a mask but I noticed something else about him. He had this string tied around his right pants' leg. Well, if it worked for him, surely, it would work for me! WRONG! As I soon found out this fella had much more working for him than that string tied around his leg! Does the name "Don Harris" sound familiar to you? If you have ever pitched against him or watched him on the courts you know who Don Harris is and you know the competition is going to be tough!

This horseshoe pitcher's career goes back quite a few years ago. Don was born on a farm in Clay County MO on Jan. 18, 1922. He attended a one room country schoolhouse until 8th grade when his family moved to a town called Paradise where he attended high school. Don started pitching horseshoes when he was 8 years old. As children they pitched with regular shoes from horses while the adults used those made for pitching. He learned from watching his father and older brothers as they pitched.

At the age of 17, the year 1938, Don went to work at the CCC Camp in Idaho for several years helping out his family as they struggled through the depression years. He worked at several other jobs until he was drafted. On November 11, 1942 he entered the Army in World War II serving with the 491st Port Battalion. He was sent overseas on July 13, 1943 spending 27 months in New Guinea and three months in Manila serving as Staff Sargent with a section of 21 men. Don must have packed his horseshoes with him as the enclosed picture reveals a young Don Harris having some R&R during a few months of peace time. The tent on the left was built by him. The water ran off the tent into the barrel providing water to wash with. At the lower end of the tent was another barrel for showers. If you noticed, Don on the far right. is wearing shorts. They didn't have to wear clothes except when they were to the mess hall. This saved them from having to boil water and wash clothes. (Sounds like a nudist colony to me!) He used Australian aircraft landing mat for flooring on the tent, the only one like it in his company. They didn't have to sweep as mud from shoes were scrapped off and went right on through. There were more enemies than the Japaneese at night time. A noise woke him once during the night. Shinning his flashlight, he spied a kangaroo Rat (Ye Gads! What's that?) dragging a can of peanuts across the floor.

Don also engaged in some boxing during wartime, boxing at 135 lbs, taking second place in his regiment. He earned several medals while overseas fighting for his country. the Good Conduct Medal, Marksman, Sharpshooter and the Bronze Star Medal. When the war was over Don was discharged from the army on Jan. 6, 1946.

Returning home Don married Fern in 1948 living in Paradise (I thought this only happened to Adam and Eve) for a few years, then moving to Smithville where they have lived happily ever after. This year marks their Golden Wedding anniversary of 50 years together! Don and Fern have four daughters and ten grandchildren. He has built two houses for his family. Don has had to rely on Fern many times to drive him home from tournaments as he gets such terrible leg cramps after lengthy afternoons of pitching.

Don went to work for Benson Mfg. making parts of missiles and fuel tanks for B-52 Bombers. Later he worked for the Claycomo Ford plant and then in 1964 went to work for TWA as a sheet metal mechanic in which he retired from in 1983.

Don loves all things outdoors, his many hobbies include fishing, hunting, trapping (in his younger days) and gardening. For 20 years he has had a colony of purple martins. He built his own bird hourses for the Martin family. He is an expert with a slingshot, proving he doesn't need a gun if he wants a squirrel or a rabbit to eat. He keeps track of the wildlife that frequent his yard and knows the repeat visitors, sometimes naming them. The ones that nibble in his garden have some names we can't print!.

Don's favorite interest is the sport of horseshoes having both an indoor and outdoor court at his home. He practices for hours at a time, at least 200 shoes, 5 days a week and has really come to the top since he was able to move up to short distance pitching. He keeps spare pegs (set in buckets of concrete) ready in case one would break during his practice sessions.

Don throws a 3/4 reverse turn, pitching Deadeye Horseshoes. He has been pitching horseshoes over 70 years, being a NHPA member for 25 years. He became a NHPA member in 1972 when he attended his first State Horseshoe Tournament where he later earned State Championship titles eight times; 5-Time 70+ 30 Feet Elders MO State Champion, 3-Time Senior MO State Champion, and 3-Time Seniors Runner-Up. Don's high ringer percentage qualified him to pitch in the Men's Championship Class seven different years: 1973, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1983 & 1984.

His longest consecutitive string of ringers was 69 on Nov. 13, 1994. Don has won the Missouri Senior Championship Class in 1982, 1983 and 1987.

Moving up to 30 Feet in 1992, Don won the 70+ 30 Feet Elders in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996 & 1997. The year 1996 was a very good year for Don. He played in 20 tournaments, averaging between 70% - 81% finishing first place in 18 tournaments, 2nd place in one tournament and finishing 4th place in the World Championships with an average of 74.36%.

His high game was 94.4% he shot against Tracy Sherman during a tournament at NMHC. Winning this tournament was nothing new to Don, but what made it unique was that Don pitched this tournament with a broken rib (breaking it two days before the tournament not wanting to cancel out)!

Don has attended six World Tournaments, his first in 1976. Pitching at 40 foot, he averaged around 69%. In 1978 at the World Tournament in Des Moines, Don beat Al Zadroga 50 to 45 points. He was the world's highest qualifier. In 1994 at Riverside Fall Festival (N/S) he pitched against 6 players in "A" Class winning the tournament without being scored on. He won three 1st places in one day in N/S tournaments at Platte City (singles) and Riverside Fall Festival (Singles & Doubles) in 1995.

In 1995, Don was inducted into the MOHPA Hall of Fame for his accomplishments achieved in horseshoes. Don has also helped organized tournaments at Platte City, Smithville and Edgerton. Don has served on the Hall of Fame Committee for five years.

One might say that he takes his life in his hands each time he pitches horseshoes, for he is highly allergic to bee stings! He may fear the bees, but his opponents feel the sting as he is deadly on the courts!

Don has found happiness through everyday living; all that he has accomplished in his lifetime made by sheer determination. Missouri horseshoe pitchers salutes this man of great character who at the age of 76 is an inspiration to all of us. Small in stature, his achievements in horseshoe pitching has made him a giant in this sport!

Below is a copy of Don's "pride and joy!" And who wouldn't be proud of these results. Take a look at his record at the Kansas City Open in 1995 as he captured 1st Place.



Official Round Robin
Tournament Schedules

Tourn: Kansas City Open - 1995
Name: Don Harris
Class: A Player#: 2
Use the 8 Player Schedule

Self Opp. Opponents Pts. Pts. Ringers D Shoes R% C. Killgore 41 5 31 14 36 86.1 E. Cooper 45 20 38 15 46 82.6 P. Henderson 43 22 46 19 56 82.1 M. Turner 40 18 41 17 50 82.0 S. Griggs 40 20 46 19 58 79.3 L. Rector 44 37 78 34 96 81.2 A. Francis 40 7 58 27 62 86.8 Won-7 Lost-0 338 145 404 83.82%