Shoe Biz Profile - November 2001


Originally Written by Jeanette Claas

Our spotlight in this issue of Shoe Biz shines upon one of our younger NHPA members whose enthusiasm for the sport of horseshoes is so contagious you will catch his fever immediately. This young man has "big" dreams for his future, and these dreams are rapidly coming true at a very early age.

Tyler Elfrink, of Leopold, MO. definitely takes his horseshoes "seriously". With his family, Tyler traveled 900 miles to make his first appearance at the 2001 World Tournament in Hibbing, Minnesota this summer. Tyler pitched in the Juniors "A" Class Division and placed 2nd in the preliminary rounds with a record of 10-4 and tournament average of 65%. This average qualified him for a shot at the World Junior Championship Title. Tyle came upon his toughest competition ever. At the end of the competition, Tyler won 5 games and lost 2, with a tournament average of 66.6%. He placed 3rd, losing second place by 1 1/2%, not too bad for this 14 year old boy from the Missouri boot heel. What was Tyler's impression of the WT? "It was greater than my expectations and also held some disappointments for me. I mean, just the respect the crowd had on the players and the friendliness of my opponents made it a fun experience!" Tyler was a little disappointed with his ringer percentage. During one game he was pitching against Keith Boone of California. Tyler was ahead 20-4 then Keith came back to beat him 40-32. "People tell me I have nothing to be disappointed about, but no matter, what I'm always a little disappointed about something after a tournament." And that little "disappointment" he feels is what drives his determination to better himself.

Tyler Joseph Elfrink was born on February 21, 1987, the first son born to Daniel and Sondra Elfrink in Cape Girardeau, MO. He has one brother Dylan, 10 years of age. The live in the small town of Leopold, population 175. Leopold is located in southeastern Missouri, approximately 35 miles west of Cape Girardeau. This area is loaded with lots of skilled horseshoe pitchers. Missouri's tragedy is the fact that only a few of these pitchers belong to the NHPA. It could be that Tyler might someday change this situation.

Dan Elfrink, Tyler's dad, is a truck driver and co-owner of Elfrink Transportation in Cape Girardeau. His mom is the Human Resource Manager at the Community Counseling Center in Cape. Tyler is entering his freshman year at Leopold High School. He loves to play basketball and sand volleyball, but is interested in all sports. Academically, Tyler has been on the honor roll evey year with a 3.75 GPA and participates in scholastic competitions. Tyler's goals for his high school years are to stay on the honor roll and work hard toward a scholarship.

Tyler was just 10 years old when he first held a horseshoe in his hand. He got started pitching horseshoes when his friend, Kelly Stause was practicing horseshoes at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Leopold. "He asked me if I wanted to play and I told him I didn't know how." Kelly showed him a few things and Tyler began to like it. In 1997, he entered his first tournament at Leopold with his friend, Brandon Stoverink. They finished in 6th place against adult competition. Since then he has participated in tournaments in the southeastern towns of Jackson, Kelso, Benton, New Hamburg, Oran and Scott City.

Tyler met Randy Grady at one of these tournaments. "He has really helped me out a lot," says Tyler. "He's given me pointers and always supports me. He is so consistent and I like the shoe he throws." Randy Grady, Missouri's Zone 4 Area Director, has definitely made an impression on Tyler. "I am relly happy for Randy to win the Men's State Title. I think that it's cool that two of the traveling trophies came back to the Southeast and only twelve of us went up there. Plus, for him to win against competition like that is a real achievement. It was a well deserved win for him!" And likewise, Tyler has certainly impressed Randy. Grady remarks, "Tyler is the kind of young man that tries to excel at whatever he does. I try to discourage young boys pitching the flip, but he is so good at it that I don't see him doing anything but getting better at it. He can pitch it pretty well at 40 feet right now. I taught school for six years and never had any students that were any more polite or eager to learn than Tyler. I can't say enough about him except that if his parents ever want to sell him, I'll buy him! Ha! He is a great kid!"

The best two pitchers Tyler has ever seen are Randy Grady and Rose Diekamp. He also gives credit to Shelia LeGrand of Dexter, for influencing his game, because she was the first to ever practice with him at a tournament. Sheila exclaims, "I am so excited about Tyler. He's just a terrific kid, and I will be more than glad to be his partner anytime he needs one." His biggest competitor is Larry Burford of Commerce, MO. Burford is a 30 footer in the SEMO Horseshoe Association. About Burford, Tyler added, "We seem to play each other at very tournament; he is real good and very hard to beat."

Tyler's mom and dad know what horseshoe pitching is all about. With horseshoe pits in their backyard, "horseshoes" is very much a family affair for the Elfrinks. "I would say that the pitcher who has helped me the most would have to be my dad. He showed me how to throw a flip shoe and he practices with me, which I think helps me to get better." They belong to the SEMO Horseshoe Assn. and pitch in tournaments on the weekends. His dad has been throwing horseshoes since he was a kid. Tyler's mom, Sondra, just won the championship at the Knights of Columbus State Tournament in the Class A Division recently held in Bloomsdale, MO. Brother, Dylan made his second apperance at the MO State Tournament pitching in the Championship Division against his brother. Dylan pitched an impressive tournament average of 41.1%, taking 3rd place. "I actually enjoyed playing against my brother it took the pressure off of me because we throw each other all the time at home", Tyler said. "It honestly just felt like practice so I enjoyed it." Dylan pitched in the 2000 MO State Horseshoe Tournament winning first place in the Junior's A Class. Horseshoe blood definitely runs in this family!

"We are very proud of Tyler's many accomplishments, especially horseshoes," says Sondra Elfrink. "Tyler has always been the kind of child who excelled at any sport he tried whether it be baseball, basketball, horseshoes or whatever. We think most of this is due in part to the fact the he is so competitive, loves a challenge, has so much determination to do his best and is willing to practice, practice, practice! We really enjoy watching Tyler participate in horseshoe competition. It's amazing to watch such a young man keep his composure and stay so focused under tough competition. Most of all, we enjoy watching him pitch horseshoes because it's something that he enjoy's and loves and has a lot of fun doing it."

Just beginning his horseshoe career 4 years ago, Tyler's achievements are quickly piling up. Joining the NHPA in 1998, at the age of 11, he attended the MO State Tournament for the first time and became Runner-Up for the Mo State Junior Division with a tournament average of 52.0%. In 1999, age 12, Tyler won the MO State Junior Championship title with a 5-0 record and a tournament average of 60.7%. Again in the year 2000, he was MO State Runner-UP, losing the final game by two points with the high tournament average of 66.8%. In 2000, he won the high point trophy in the SEMO Hoseshoe Associaition and will again win if for the year 2001. His highest ringer percentage pitched in a single game is 86.2%. Some of his high tournaments include: July 16, 2000 - Scott City Mixed Open, 63.0%; July 22, 2000 - Jackson Mixed Open, 70.5%; March 31, 2001 - Park Hills Spring Shoot Out, 64.3%.

His most recent accomplishment was to win his second State Title in the Junior Championship Division at the MO State Tournament. Tyler finished with a 5-0 record with a tournament average of 67.6%. Take a look at these impressive statistics:

   Game #1 - vs Casey Kitchen    14/18 ringers (77.7%), score 42-1
   Game #2 - vs James Gericke    19/24 ringers (79.1%), score 43-0
   Game #3 - vs Dylan Elfrink    30/44 ringers (68.1%), score 43-18
   Game #4 - vs Gavin Hughes     14/20 ringers (70.0%), score 44-0
   Game #5 - vs Mason Jennings   38/64 ringers (59.3%), score 41-34

"I had a great time at the State Tournament", exclaimed Tyler. "The pits were in good shape, the tournament ran smoothly. Good judges, scorekeepers, etc. I think that Mason Jennings is an awesome pitcher. If he keeps throwing the way he does, he's going to be unbeatable. I really enjoyed it." Tyler didn't stick around too long after his division was finished and I didn't get to talk to him after his event. But then I found out why. He had to get back home to pitch in another tournament the next day. You gotta love it!

He practices 2-3 times a week, tossing some 100-500 shoes. Tyler throws a flip using Gordon horseshoes. His eyes are kept on the peg from the time of delivery until the shoe lands. Tyler sets himself goals. Once he reaches it, he sets himself another goal - one step at a time. "First of all, my goal was to beat Levi Blevins of Galena. He is really a good pitcher and we have always had close games." Tyler's main goal in horseshoe pitching is, "Without a doubt, to win a world title! I would just be so happy if I could ever do that. I would also like to be among the top five juniors in the Nation. Currently, I'm number 9 in the world, but I've been as high as number 6, so I think that I could make it into the top five." he offers this advise to all the pitchers out there "Practice. Watch other people pitch. Never give up. Be a good sport because no matter how good you are, if you have an attitude problem, no one will ever acknowledge your skills."

"During tournament play, I don't think about horseshoe pitching because it just throws me off. Usually, I sing a song in my head to take my mind off the game." Uh, Tyler, maybe you could tell us the name of one of these songs that would help the rest of us poor souls out there who have been struggling for years?

"The thing that I like best about horseshoes is the friendly atmosphere. I mean, win of lose, everybody is always having a good time. And I think that's what keeps me interested in horseshoes. And plus, everybody is so supporitve of me; they always want me to do well. It's just a good way to relax and have fun. The thing that I dislike more than ANYTHING, is when ringers bounce off. That really makes me mad!" A discovery found all too soon by all horseshoe pitchers.

At the 2001 World Tournament convention, the NHPA officers and members amended a rule governing the Junior Division. "Any child up through the age of 9 years will be allowed to pitch at the 20-foot line." Missouri now has two Co-Junior Directors: Ron Hughes on the western side and Melody Williams on the eastern side. Missouri will have a new category for juniors through the age of nine, called the Peewee Division. Missouri, with only 36 junior members, definitely needs more pitchers, but with organized sports that keep so many of our youngsters busy; it is hard to get them interested in horseshoes. Tyler remarks, "I think that kids would be more interested in horseshoes if they just tried it once. Horsesheos is very addictive. Once you start, you always want to play again! Also, I think that if they had just strictly junior tournaments they migh bring in more juniors." Maybe there is a lot of wisdom in what this young man says.

It was another "horseshoe moment" as I sat in the bleachers watching Tyler pitch at his first World Tournament in Hibbing, MN. Tyler was emotionally caught up in the game, wanting to win this title so much. There was no easy game in this championship division. One must work hard for every win. Tyler's mom and dad sat (up and down) spellbound, feeling all the emotions that parents feel watching their child participate in competition, having to get up, leave, only to come back again. I, too, was caught up in the excitement. Another spectator sitting there, asked me If I was his 'grandmother.' "No," I replied. "But I would be mighty proud if I were."

Tyler, in his youth, has won the respect of all Missouri horseshoe pitchers. With his realistic attitude, his keen sense of insight and determination, Tyler will always be among the champions in horseshoes. In the words of our former Missouri State Champion, Stan Griggs, "Here comes some more of my competition in a few years!!!!!!"