FAIRMONT – Eighty-four-year-old Charles M. Bunner likes playing and talking about horseshoes so much, he credits the sport as one reason he has lived so long.
“A lot of people don’t think I’m almost 85. I’ll be 85 in February, I can’t believe it. I’ve stayed active. I’ve done very little smoking of cigarettes, never got involved with any of the hard stuff. And I drank very little. I’ve always been active,” said Bunner, who is president-elect of Affiliated Horseshoe Pitchers-MCPARC Incorporated Club.
After high school, Bunner joined the U.S. Army and became involved in horseshoes wherever he lived. He competed in Germany, South Korea and other parts of Europe.
Bunner’s passion for playing horseshoes in Marion County goes back to 1976, two years after he returned stateside from serving in the Army.
“Around 1976, I said I loved horseshoes and the game and the people I got to meet and pitch with. So, I initiated paperwork correspondence to the Times West Virginian to try to get an organization started in Marion County. I started in 1976 with a lot of articles in the paper,” Bunner said.
All of the publicity led to the county’s first horseshoe courts.
“I think we came into existence in 1978. We started out in Worthington with four unofficial horseshoe courts—wooden platforms,” Bunner said.
Today, Bunner and other local horseshoe enthusiasts play on expanded courts at East Marion Recreation Veterans Park. The courts are maintained by the Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission and members of the Affiliated Horseshoe Pitchers.
“It grew to six courts permanent. And now there are 12 courts there. I held a state tournament once or twice. I also held a regional tournament there. At the same time, East Marion Recreations Memorial Veterans Park was being developed. A group of us wanted to put horseshoe courts there which was not in the initial design,” Bunner said.
Fellow horseshoe pitching advocate Barbara Kisner, 66, of Fairmont has been pitching since her childhood in Eastern Kentucky.
“I was probably around 14 when I started playing just at home for fun. Our pastime, a lot of times, was pitching horseshoes as kids. Our families would get together and pitch. You just wanted to beat your family members,” she said.
Kisner’s passion for horseshoe pitching continued with her husband and family.
“When we bought our first trailer we put horseshoe pits outside our house. We even put lights up so after dark we could go out in the evenings and pitch horseshoes,” Kisner said.
Kisner’s competitive spirit has also continued down through her family.
“We’re very competitive in my household. My kids, my husband, all of us are very competitive,” she said.
She became active in competitive horseshoe play about four years ago when she joined Affiliated Horseshoe Pitchers-MCPARC Incorporated Club.
“We knew it was there. We watched the pitchers a few times before we got involved. One of the girls I went to church with invited us to come and pitch with them,” she said.
Since then, Kisner has competed in various tournaments and competitions in the women’s division where she has earned awards of all kinds.
“I have a lot of trophies. Quite a number of trophies from our league. If you do really good, you get patches. I have lots of patches. I never put them on a shirt like people do. I just put mine in an envelope. And then I have medallions that go around your neck,” Kisner said proudly.
However, Kisner’s greatest achievement as a competitive pitcher has been winning the 2018 West Virginia Horseshoe Pitchers Association State Singles Tournament Women’s Division.
“There were three competing. It could have been anyone of us. Each one of us won the same amount of games, so we had to have a play-off. I had the highest average, so I had to pitch against the first lady,” Kisner said.
After she downed the first player, she beat the second woman.
“It could have gone either way. She’s better than I am, but I lucked out that day and won. It was awesome to win that. That’s a big accomplishment,” Kisner said.
Today, Kisner shares her passion for horseshoes in hopes other generations will get involved.
“It’s fun for older people, but we want younger people to pitch. My grandkids pitched in a tournament recently that we had. Actually, my daughter, my son-in-law, and my three grandsons all pitched in it because it was a family event up at Wave Tek. It was a lot of fun. They enjoyed it,” Kisner said.
MCPRC Director Tony Michalski said every horseshoe pitching tournament hosted in Marion County greatly helps Marion County.
“They put heads in beds. People come in from surrounding states to compete in tournaments. They bring people in from outside the community and that helps with programs and events we have going on. Tournaments help with keeping people active in the community,” he said.
Affiliated Horseshoe Pitchers-MCPARC Incorporated Club hopes to reach younger generations to continue the sport of horseshoe pitching.
“When we see kids at the park playing basketball or this or that we always invite them over. We would love to have the younger kids get involved,” said Kisner.
“I think if more people would come out and get involved, they would realize that it’s a lot of fun and you’ve got good people to just hang out with. It doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg to do it, and you’re getting exercise. It’s great, I really like it,” she said.
AHP-MCPARC is scheduled to host the 83rd State Tournament during Aug. 28-30 2020, at the East Marion Recreation Veterans Park.