MILTON — With hands caked in wet clay and his Red Sox hat slightly askew, Hiram Paradee bends at the knee and launches a horseshoe at a metal stake 30 feet away.
On most Monday and Tuesday nights during the summer, Paradee and dozens of others meet here on Middle Road near Bombardier Park, filling the air with the sounds of metal clanging within the Champlain Valley Horseshoe Club’s 17 pits.
In mid-July, Paradee and six other members from the Champlain Valley Horseshoe Club traveled to Buffalo, N.Y. to compete in the World Series of Horseshoes. Paradee, 84, of St. Albans, placed highest, coming in second in his senior Elder division.
“It was quite the experience. There was a huge crowd,” Paradee explained from his home off North Elm Street in St. Albans City. “I don’t get nervous very often. It wasn’t overwhelming; I was just playing horseshoes.”
The scene in Buffalo was different, though, from the one Paradee and the six others who traveled with him are used to at the clay pits in Milton. The 2014 World Series was held in a large indoor exposition center at a fairground outside the city. There were 1,260 players from all over the world, competing in divisions from very young to Paradee’s 70-plus elder division.
Paradee proudly shows off a tall blue trophy he earned for placing second. The 15 other players he competed against came from all over North America, as far away as Louisiana, Florida and Ontario.
But at the pits in Milton, where about 12 to 26 players come on Monday and Tuesday nights to play, the games turn less serious.
“Come and play when you want,” said club secretary, treasurer and tournament organizer David Trayah of Milton, who also traveled to Buffalo with the group. “It’s not as if you have to be here every week.”
At the world tournament, Trayah explained, there are 48 courts, with five shifts of games each day involving 96 players.
Trayah played Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, July 14-16 before watching Hiram Paradee, his cousin Tom Paradee, and his wife, June Trayah, along with Diana Packard, John Remy and Kayla Bushey, the others from the Champlain Valley Horseshoe club delegation at the World Series.
“I enjoyed it very much,” said Tom Paradee, 77, who often plays doubles with his cousin. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“They were such wonderful women in my group,” June Trayah said. “I went in, 15 ladies and I was ranked 15th and I finished 10th. So, hey, I was happy and met a lot of lovely ladies.”
The members play at least four tournaments a year to qualify to play in the World Series. The Vermont State tournament will be held in Milton Aug. 16 and 17.
On this late July evening, the weather was perfect, but it had rained the day before, leaving the clay 3-by-4 foot boxes a sloppy mess of mud-like clay. Players kept towels nearby to wipe the mess from their hands before they pitch, and the teams exchange horseshoes mid-game; it’s a disadvantage to have to use horseshoes that aren’t your own.
Hiram Paradee has been playing horseshoes regularly since he retired from farming in 1996, selling his farm in Fairfield. Players are ranked by the percentage of ringers they shoot; Hiram entered the tournament as a 36 percent shooter, but shot 43 percent in his group, finishing with an 11-4 record. He lives now in the Four Winds complex in St. Albans with his partner, Shirley Burns. If he had won his group, he would have moved on to play the winners of the other many groups of 16. By comparison, the top Elder champion, from West Virginia, shot 83 percent.
Burns said Hiram started slow, but found his momentum on the third day, winning all five of his games. “It was so different that first day, you have to get your bearings and figure out what you’re doing because it’s all on cement. It was a little different than playing out in a field.”
Hiram also had a chance to see his son, Joe, who lives in the Buffalo area and watched every single game.
When Hiram caught fire on the third day, he was shooting nearly 60 percent ringers, Burns said.
“I’ll tell you what I’d compare it to,” Hiram said. “You ever pitch baseball? You know how some days you have it, some days you don’t? It’s the same thing. Just like pitching a baseball, it’s all control.
“Just try to keep it at one flip,” Paradee explained, expanding on his secret to success. “It has to flip just once because if it don’t, it’s going to be off. Aim for the bottom of the pole.”
At the Milton horseshoe pits, the group welcomes anyone interesting in playing. Bob Gordon, the club president, says the cost is $5 to play on Mondays and Tuesdays, and you don’t have to be a National Horseshoe Pitchers Association member.
Hiram performed the best in the group, and on this Tuesday night, his fellow club members were quick to give him credit for his performance in Buffalo.
“It’s a good family sport,” Trayah said. “A lot of it is the camaraderie.”