If you are attempting to comprise a competitive horseshoe team it sure doesn't hurt to have a few North Dakota hurlers on your side, even in distant Arizona. The sunny state may be a long way from home to pitch horseshoes, but it suits a trio of North Dakota twirlers just fine. Their teammates have no complaints either.
Bob Holte, Minot, John Niemitalo, Stanley, and Bill Truchan, of Killdeer, threw shoes for the "Mesa Spirit Horseshoes" this past winter while competing in the Apache Trail Horseshoe League. The team captured league crowns in both singles and doubles. The previous season the Mesa Spirit finished first in doubles but were runner-up in singles.
"Our oldest player is 97, John Niemitalo, of Stanley. The youngest is 70," said Holte, coach of the team and a long-time horseshoe pitcher. "One team was two games from tying us in the doubles but we kicked them."
The Mesa Spirit horseshoe team boasts three players from North Dakota. The team recently captured two titles in an Arizona winter league.
When asked what role the coach plays on a team made up of veteran horseshoe players from across the United States, Holte replied, "Call the players, get donuts and coffee. Get them fired up. Horseshoes is big down there."
Holte has spent the last 10 winters in Arizona, throwing horseshoes whenever he can. The 16-team league he competes in heads to the courts each Tuesday morning. The complex consists of a dozen well-designed, all sand horseshoe pits.
"We won more games than anybody in the league. We had the most wins in singles and the least losses. We had the most wins in doubles," said Holte. "The league runs from November through March."
The team was minus one of its top competitors this past season.
"He passed on. He was good. He won the World in 1986," recalled Holte.
According to Holte, the Apache Trails Horseshoe League is not nationally sanctioned but his team is made up of players that all have extensive experience tossing horseshoes. Holte, for example, won the senior's crown at Minot's Moose Lodge League last year. He returned from Arizona a few days ago in time to enter another league season at the Moose courts. The competition is scored on an individual basis only, no teams.
"You've got to practice every day. That's how you become good," remarked Holte.
That kind of approach from Holte and his fellow North Dakotans is what helped the Mesa Spirit clinch a pair of recent championships.