If a car traveling toward them in the wrong direction hardly breaks their focus, what will? 

Although motorists sometimes mistakenly drive west on 5th Avenue, which becomes a busy one-way road near Riverside Park in Moline, members of the Moline Horseshoe Club have grown immune to the traffic that surrounds their grounds. 

“You’ve gotta block it out of your mind,” Frank MacArthur, a 75-year-old player from Davenport, said during a cigarette break last weekend at practice.

For the first time this spring, members of the longstanding recreational organization will compete on Saturday at Triangle Courts, the group's headquarters between 4th and 5th avenues near the eastern edge of the city. 

Although organizers encourage women to join the club, which was founded in 1990, the cast of characters primarily consists of male retirees. Besides their varying throwing styles, each of them has a unique story to share.

'Years of practice'

Take MacArthur, for example, a U.S. Navy veteran who has a dragon tattoo on his right forearm, ink he received in 1963, he thinks, while serving in Japan.  

Or there is Terry Lyon, 77, of Taylor Ridge, who still throws from the 40-foot mark. When competitors turn 70, rules allow them to pitch from 30 feet, but Lyon refuses to take the advantage.  

"I've got to keep pushing myself," said Lyon, whose knees gave out after 65 years of downhill skiing. "I'm slowing down a bit, and I acknowledge that, but I can still throw them that far." 

The veteran competitor, who picked up the backyard game from his father about 70 years ago, dusted off the rust last weekend with his comrades.

With his eyes locked on the target ahead of him, Lyon tried to keep his right arm as stiff as he could during his windup. Gripping the U-shaped metal object, he swung his arm behind him, directly in line with the stake, and spun it into the air. If he does it right, Lyon said his toss will spin the shoe 1¼ times before landing near the stake.  

Others opt for the flipping technique. 

“There's different ways of pitching, but as long as you can put it on the peg, it doesn’t matter," he said.

When asked what makes the perfect toss, another spinner replied:

"Lots of practice," said Jim McCord, a 79-year-old East Moline resident, who tries to spin the shoe 1¾ times every throw. "Years of practice."

And it shows.

Last season, he recorded about a 50 percent ringer percentage, meaning half of his pitches from 30 feet ended up resting around the stake.

Former Colona Mayor Danny McDaniel matched up against McCord in a practice round last weekend. Holding his own, the 69-year-old noted the game's mental challenges.

"I’ve got to keep my eye right on that stake and not think at all," said McDaniel, who already is practicing from 30 feet because he turns 70 this summer. 

Several of the competitors kept their skills fresh during the off-season by playing indoor cornhole games, also known as "bags," at the Factory of Fear building in Moline.

Back outside, the city manages the club's property, which has 24 clay courts — the only ones of their kind in the Quad-Cities.

Players said they prefer the sticky surface, which they routinely water, over sand, a much slicker surface prone to sliding. 

However, many members of the Moline Horseshoe Club frequent the Colona Horseshoe Club, which has eight sand courts located off Illinois 84 along the Hennepin Canal.

Everybody pitches in

Approaching the club's 30th year in action, longtime member Richard Timmer, 81, of Rock Island wants younger players to test their hand at the pits around town. 

“As a general rule, horseshoe people are pretty easy to get along with,” said Timmer, who has traveled across the country to compete in tournaments. “It’s a good chance to get outside and get a little exercise.”

In Moline, several of the organization's members share the workload to keep the club up and running.

From stocking the refrigerator and bringing doughnuts and coffee to raising and lowering the flag each time they play, all the regulars have a job, thanks to Don Johnston, the club's first-year president. 

"If everybody gives a little, nobody gives a lot," said Johnston, a clean-shaven 66-year-old from Colona.

He deploys the delegation skills he picked up during his tenure as director of the Henry County Fair. 

The list of roles and responsibilities, which were penciled in on a piece of loose-leaf paper, hangs on a cork board in their clubhouse.

Discussing the level of competition in the Quad-City area, Johnston called his group a "tough bunch of players." 

"They can go just about anywhere and hold their own against anybody," he said, adding that several players will compete this summer in tournaments around the region.

When it comes to their gear, the guys are pretty resourceful.

To avoid constantly bending over, Lyon crafted his own back-saving tool he uses to pick up his horseshoes off the ground. 

To transport his horseshoes, McDaniel, the former mayor of Colona, built a carrying case out of black walnut wood.

He glued a photograph, which pictures a pair of horseshoe players shaking hands, atop the box to remind him and others of the sport's proper etiquette.  

"Every game should end like that," McDaniel said, "whether you win or lose."

Editor's note: Look for reporter Jack Cullen's Notes @ Noon Tuesday, Thursday and Friday online at noon. He captures various sides of life in the Quad-Cities. Contact him at jcullen@qctimes.com or 563-383-2363.

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Jack Cullen writes about various sides of life across the Quad-City area in his Notes @ Noon column, and he also covers the outdoors. Outside of work, you can find him on the tennis court, where he serves as a coach at Augustana College in Rock Island, his alma mater.