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A common love for chasing ringers

Evansville's Janet and Alan Larson are two of the top horseshoe players in the state in the Women's and Men's Divisions. Both took third at the state tournament this year. (Contributed)

Evansville’s Alan Larson was around 5 years old when he picked up a horseshoe that had fallen off one of the horses on the family farm and started tossing it around. He has hardly put them down since.

Larson’s dad shared his love of the game of horseshoes with Alan since that day. Now at 55 years old, Alan is returning the favor to family and friends around him, and in the process, he has become half of one of the best husband and wife duos in the state.

Larson and his wife, Janet, have been married for 33 years, but it wasn’t until 1999 that Janet picked up a horseshoe herself. The couple lived right next to Alan’s dad and Janet started to join him in the backyard when she heard him throwing. Her game quickly took off from there. Now she’s a two-time state champion after winning the Women’s Division in 2008 and 2012. Pretty good for someone who says she never had much success in any kind of athletic field.

“I remember when I first started pitching and won a tournament,” Janet said. “I called my mom and I said, ‘Mom, I finally found a sport.’ “

Janet and Alan have both been a fixture among the top throwers in their divisions at state tournaments. This year was no different as they each finished third in the Men’s and Women’s A Division at the Minnesota State tournament that was held at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria this past weekend.

For Janet and Alan, both members of the Alexandria Horseshoe Club in town, it was a dream come true to bring the best players to Alexandria. Finally, it came to fruition as more than 170 pitchers competed, thanks to a lot of hard work by members of the Alexandria and Eagles Horseshoe Clubs in town.

“This turnout was just about our whole league and the Eagles League and the Bertha League coming together,” Janet said. “It was just a really good experience of all of us coming together and hosting this tournament.”

Almost 20 area pitchers competed in the tournament in various divisions. Joe Nicholson and Justin Dummer each took home titles in the Men’s K and J Divisions, respectively. Byron Edwards won the Elders E Division. Tim Bayerl took second in the Men’s D Division, while Kendra Swenson did the same in the Junior B Division. Perennial power Dale Lipovsky of Apple Valley won his 30th overall state title in the Men’s Division.

It’s Lipovsky and Gerald Stangland who have been standing in Alan’s way in his search for a state title in recent years. Larson has come close at every division he has completed at all the way from the junior level through the top of the men’s league now. He’s taken plenty of third-place finishes in recent years, but that championship still eludes him.

“There’s that state title that’s lurking out there,” he said. “I’ve come so close a couple times. I’ve been rated within the top 100 in the country as far as the 40-foot division. That’s a nice place to be, but so much of this sport is the people. We have our local family here, the league family. You see them at tournament after tournament and you just become great friends.”

Larson notes with a chuckle that he is one of his only family members without a state championship. His daughter, Kayla, has three of them from her time competing in the Junior Girls’ Division. His grandson, Devin Stone, has a Cadet Division title and his father has won a Senior Division title, as well.

“It’s a family sport,” Janet said. “One thing I keep telling families is you run your kids to all your different sports and you sit and watch. This is one where you can run your kids and you can all participate. It’s really a great family sport if you can get everybody into it.”

It took Janet a little while to realize that herself. She has come a long ways since joining her first tournaments almost 14 years ago with a ringer percentage of 10 percent. She is now on a pretty level playing field with her husband as Alan hits ringers at a 58-percent rate and Janet throws at a 55-percent clip.

“It’s been really a treat to see her come along as fast as she has and to be married to a state champion,” Alan said. “It’s quite a feat in a short period of time to be where she’s at.”

It’s also allowed the couple a chance to share a passion for something that brings them closer together. The Larsons have traveled all over the United States to play in tournaments, including the World Tournament in Utah this year. They both won world titles in lower classes during the the tournament in Hibbing in 2001.

That success, they say, is secondary. It’s the chance to share something with family and friends that really makes the sport of horseshoes a special game for this couple.

“The last couple of years, we’ve ended up pitching in the same class against each other in tournaments,” Janet said with a laugh. “That sometimes gets a little tricky, but we have a lot of fun with it. We’ve just met a lot of great people all’s a big family reunion every time you get together.”


ALEXANDRIA AREA PITCHERS; MEN’S A DIVISION - A. Larson, third place; WOMEN’S A DIVISION - J. Larson, third place; MEN’S I DIVISION - Dan Larson, seventh place; MEN’S H DIVISION - Jeff Thompson, fourth place; ELDER’S E DIVISION - Byron Edwards, first place; MEN’S J DIVISION - Justin Dummer, first place; Bill Thoennes, third place; MEN’S K DIVISION - Joe Nicholson, first place; Jim Rushford, third place; Bruce Swenson, eighth place; JUNIOR B DIVISION - Kendra Swenson, second place; WOMEN’S F DIVISION - Kia Larson, third place; Judy Carlson, fifth place; ELDER’S C DIVISION - Phil Swenson, third place; MEN’S D DIVISION - Tim Bayerl, second place; MEN’S F DIVISION - Brian Hoppe, seventh place; MEN’S C DIVISION - Gary Boots, fourth place; MEN’S G DIVISION - Jerry Zastrow, sixth place; MEN’S E DIVISION - James Syverson, seventh place;

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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