Orville McElroy has a number of hobbies that are common among people in and around Calhoun County.
The 82-year-old enjoys fishing, playing golf and gardening. But he also enjoys something not many others may appreciate — playing horseshoes, which he has done for almost his whole life.
McElroy joined the Alabama Horseshoe Pitchers Association in 1982. He has won the Elder Men’s State Championship five times and, at his highest, had a 78.2 percent ringer percentage.
The only love for McElroy that somewhat rivals horseshoes is music. He and Pete Hosey of Sylacauga, have several videos on YouTube that include McElroy singing or playing the harmonica and Hosey playing the guitar.
Every Friday night, McElroy goes to the Golden Saw Music Hall in Jacksonville and enjoys hearing local musicians play.
McElroy is originally from Cleburne County and grew up in the Hollis Crossroads area. He graduated from Munford High in 1949 and soon after served in the field artillery in Ft. Benning, Ga., for 19 months.
After his service, McElroy moved back north and shortly afterward to Weaver, where he has lived since the mid-1950s.
He and wife, Nancy, have two sons, four daughters and 10 grandchildren.
Recently, McElroy sat down with Anniston Star sports writer Brandon Miller and answered 10 questions.
Question: How did you get into horseshoes?
Answer: Back when I started school, shooting marbles and spinning tops was about all you had to do. So, from the first grade on up, I pitched horseshoes occasionally. In about the 1960s or ’70s, they organized the Alabama Horseshoe Pitchers Association, and you’d join up and go to different cities, like Huntsville and Montgomery, and participate in tournaments.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about pitching?
A: I love the competition. It’s no fun to get out in the yard by yourself and throw. If you have an opponent, kind of like a chess match, you like competition. That’s about it.
Q: What’s been your favorite tournament to compete in?
A: The world tournaments down in Biloxi, Miss., and Perry, Ga., were a lot of fun. Some of them were in Illinois and Oklahoma. It’s neat to see different stuff and different people. I’ve never done much traveling at all until we start going to the world tournament. I’ve basically just been right here in Alabama. My wife enjoys seeing different stuff and places, but she was always wanting to go a long way and fly, but I don’t fly. That knocked us out of one in Utah and another in Idaho and some other places I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to fly.
Q: How did you get into playing the harmonica?
A: I think I have the box at home of my first harmonica, which I dad bought me before I started school. I don’t have the harmonica, but I have the box. Like any kid, I wanted to toot around some and make some racket, but, of course, that faded away. Later, when I went into the service, I had a lot of spare time. I found a fellow in there with a guitar, so we would play music as long as he was at the same camp that I was. Then, when I got out of the service, I got in with a lot of groups and played with them. That’s how it elevated. I’m just a so-so harmonica player, but I like to try.
Q: What brought you to Weaver?
A: I spent most of my latter years in Talladega County in Munford. I married my wife. She was from a joined community, and we came in Calhoun County in 1958 and we’ve been in Weaver for 46 years.
Q: How often do you pitch?
A: Normally, we’ll have a tournament every weekend until we get into the cold weather. Occasionally, for some reason or another, I’ll miss on a Saturday, but I’d say nine out of 10 weekends, I’m there. Right now, it’s kind of winding down. Around late August, we’ll wind it up.
Q: Do you prefer to play individually or with someone else as a team?
A: I prefer individually, and most all horseshoe pitchers do. The thing about doubles is you never know who’s going to win because you take the top and bottom and match them all the way down. It really doesn’t tell you who’s the best horseshoe pitchers because when you have the bottom man and top man, the top man is trying to pick up the slack for both of them. But it’s a lot of fun. I just prefer singles.
Q: Have you introduced anyone to horseshoes?
A: Very few. This area around here, I dare say there’s no one else in Calhoun County that throws, probably. My friend that I used to go everywhere with and I are probably the only two around here that throw. There’s not a whole lot of interest in it in Calhoun County. Now, Georgia and Tennessee, they have a good following for horseshoes.
Q: What’s the hardest thing about horseshoes?
A: Once you get the hang of it and what you’re doing, you can pitch anywhere. We pitch most tournaments in wet clay, so when the shoe hits, it stays. All the recreational pitching, like family reunions and picnics, they have a sandbox — you throw into the sand and scoot it. Once you get throwing, it makes no difference. You can throw in anything else than others are throwing.
Q: Is there a uniform or something in particular you wear while pitching?
A: You usually have a shirt on that has your name and your location. You have your name on the back and it says Anniston, Ala., even though I’m from Weaver. That’s a requirement if you go to any tournament. They’ll tell you before you come. They don’t want you to come out there in ragged, cut-off shorts and a ripped shirt.