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Horseshoes fly at Grange Fair

Steel flew through the air Tuesday morning.

The horseshoes hung for a moment, or flipped end-over-end, before clanging off metal posts.

The telltale noise rang out through the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair as campers stirred and vendors prepared for another busy day.

For Betty Turner, it sounded like tradition.

Turner and her husband, Alan, as they have for years, spent their time at the Grange Fair organizing and overseeing the annual Horseshoe Pitching Contest.

Both grew up with the tournament, and pitching horseshoes is in their blood.

“It’s a family thing,” Betty Turner said.

The courts, in fact, are named after her father, Dean Rossman, who was instrumental in landing a permanent spot for the contest after years of bouncing around the fairgrounds.

Turner has proudly kept her father’s tradition alive since he died in 2003. She and her husband trade behind-the-scenes duties for a chance to pitch every other year.

It was lucky for the field she was stuck behind the computer keeping score Tuesday.

“My husband teases me that I got my dad’s genetics,” Turner said. “I can roll right out of bed and throw ringers.”

But Turner attributes her skill to more than just muscle memory from years of practice.

“It feels like my dad,” she said. “I can feel it.”

Whether they knew it or not, all 40-some participants in the annual tournament felt Rossman’s presence. His legacy includes the cement and fencing that marks the permanent horseshoe pits built in 1997 at Grange Fair.

Old-timers, some who have been pitching in the tournament for 60 years, remember a more transient life for the contest, by the bathrooms one year, on the other side of the fairgrounds the next.

And if its current home is a bit off the beaten path, behind a maintenance garage and surrounded by RVs, that’s just fine with Betty Turner.

“We’re a little far out, but that’s OK,” she said with a chuckle.

It doesn’t stop a loyal, close-knit group from returning every year.

Alan and Betty Turner’s son makes the trip from Georgia. The returning champion is from Camp Hill.

“This is like a fever,” Alan Turner said.

He is hoping horseshoes proves contagious for younger generations as well. A junior division offered in the tournament has been popular in recent years.

Twelve-year-old Nick Turner, Alan’s nephew, looked every bit the natural, throwing ringers in just his second year attending the tournament.

“If I can get kids here I can keep them,” Alan Turner said.

Turner knows the tournament is about so much more than the plaques awaiting winners from each skill group. It’s about seeing old friends and keeping memories of others alive.

“That’s what this is all about — tradition,” Betty Turner said.

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