Thursday, November 13, 2014


Simple approach key to success

Canby’s Sig Armitage excels in horseshoe pitching arena

August 2, 2014
By Nick Hansen (nhansen@marshallindependent.comMarshall Independent
By Nick Hansen

Article Photos

Photo by Nick Hansen
Sig Armitage of Canby practices his craft in his backyard. Armitage gets a ringer on 71 percent of his throws in tournaments. He is in elite company. Only two dozen have a ringer average above 50.
CANBY - There is a picture on Sig Armitage's kitchen wall that reads, "Keep it simple." That's the way the 75-year old state champion horseshoe thrower has remained at the top of his game after 60-plus years of throwing.
If Armitage played any other sport, he'd either have a lot more money or a cult following. He sticks to a rigorous practice schedule. He competes in more tournaments than almost any thrower in Minnesota. And, to put it bluntly, he's better than most of them.
The Canby native has a 71.81 ringer percentage this year, which means that over 71 percent of his throws in tournaments are ringers - the best throw a pitcher can have. Of the few hundred other registered throwers with the Minnesota Gopher State Horseshoe Pitchers Association (MGSHPA), only about two dozen have a ringer percentage above 50. Last year Armitage threw 1,102 ringers in 35 games in his home league. Last month, he finished 13th in the elders division at the National Horseshoes Pitching Association (NHPA) World Championships.
"Sig is the best I know at his age and where he pitches from," said Jason Buchert, the local league organizer.
"I think if I had the time to practice and commit to the sport I could be as good as him and hope to be one day," Buchert added.
Armitage learned the game on his farm in Canby when he was a kid.
"I started pitching when I was 14 or 15. My two brothers and I out at the farm and my dad. After we ate dinner we'd go out and throw. The stakes are still there under the two big cottonwood trees," he says while sitting in the shade of his garden shed after a recent early afternoon pitching session.
Armitage has throwing down to an art: Grip with four of your fingers at the bottom of the horseshoe with the thumb on the caulk. Step forward with your left foot, bring your hand back, and pitch the shoe so it flips at least once. If all goes right he'll hear the clank of the shoe hitting the stake.
It usually goes right.
He is serious when plays, but not unfriendly. He follows the etiquette of the game, shaking hands before the match and standing two feet behind the thrower when they are pitching. However, he doesn't talk. He knows why he is out there.
"We're not out there for exercise," he says while picking up a horseshoe with a golf club-hook contraption, so he doesn't have to bend down to pick up the shoes.
He's wearing denim shorts, glasses with self-tinting lenses, a brown hat with three horses on it and a dark blue T-shirt with the NHPA World Championships logo above the left breast pocket. He smiles a lot, is sociable, and will offer you a pop, but it "has to be diet."
Armitage has a simple routine to get better at pitching. He practices every day at 3:30 p.m. because that is when the shade is optimal on his backyard court. He throws 150 to 200 shoes when he practices; sometimes he won't stop until he gets 150 ringers. He plays in about 30 tournaments because he believes playing a lot of games will help him improve. He also gets straight to the point when you ask him about horseshoes.
What makes a good horseshoe player? "Concentration."
What tournament do you look forward to every year? "State."
What has kept you going? "Success."
Even though he loves to compete, he's not driven by the hardware, at least not most of it.
"I threw away maybe a hundred trophies," he says as he points at a shelf of awards in his basement court. There are still enough accolades to more than adequately fill two rooms.
He's hung photos of friends he has met pitching horseshoes and patches from the NHPA and the Minnesota Gopher State Pitching Association. One NHPA patch denotes that he got 90 percent ringers in one game. He keeps the scoresheet from his 2012 state championship in a frame. He went 5-0. However, it still doesn't matter a whole lot to him. "It's just stuff," he said.
Armitage couldn't survive on his winnings from horseshoe throwing. He won just $250 from his world championship trip. He retired from farming 25 years ago and now drives a school bus. However, it seems too regimented to be a hobby.
"It's like me asking him to go shopping," says his wife Joan at her kitchen table.
Like any athlete at the top of their game, Armitage has his worries.
"I can throw 16 ringers in a row, not too much a problem. It's that 17th and 18th ringer that you want to keep them going," he says at his kitchen table in between sips from a glass of Diet Orange Sunkist. That phenomenon goes by different names: the yips, choking, having a meltdown.
"I typed up choking in sports," he says. He came across the work of Dr. Patrick Cohn, a sports psychologist who works with professional athletes. He subscribed to Cohn's emails, but hasn't gone for paid treatment yet.
Armitage has never had a complete meltdown, but he's come close.
"I went to went to Beloit, Wisconsin, for the team world. I went to a quarter turn and a flip. I was shooting 60 percent. There I shot 44 percent for the whole tournament," he says. "I don't know what possessed me to try something different, but I did," he adds. He quickly went back to the straight flip.
It is a mental game for Armitage. "You gotta think about every little thing you do. You don't just get out and throw. I know all the things I have to do," he says.
"He has a whole list!" adds Joan.
The organized horseshoe throwing community is small, but active. According to the NHPA website, membership totals around 15,000 with about 6,200 members in the league program. There were 1,269 entrants in the World Championships this year. Minnesota boasts one of the largest horseshoe throwing communities in the United States with over 30 sanctioned clubs and more than 1,000 members, according to the MGSHPA website.
Even though Armitage has two courts to practice on, many tournament victories and an "understanding wife," he still doesn't have everything he wants.
"I would like to have people come and play," he says while looking wistfully at his court.
It's that simple.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nick's Notes: Veterans Day

Nick’s Notes: Veterans Day

November 11, 2014
By Nick Hansen (nhansen@marshallindependent.comMarshall Independent
A few weeks ago Duke University men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski used a series of basketball metaphors to criticize the President's strategy to combat ISIS at the Association of the U.S. Army Conference.
Coach K, a West Point Graduate, said the "no boots on the ground" strategy was like playing a game without his best players. He named off a few of his star players that he had coached over the years, Grant Hill, J.J. Redick, and Christian Laettner.
I don't question Krzyzewski's commitment to causeses related to our armed forces, however I worry about the flippant attitude that war and sports metaphors are used interchangeably.
Days like this remind me of my cousin Phillip Johnson Jr., who was killed in Afghanistan in January of 2004. His helicopter was shot down over Fallujah. He's now buried in Arlington National Cemetary.
I wonder about what Phillip was doing that morning before heading out on his mission. I doubt making a flight plan for his UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was anything like preparing a game plan for North Carolina.
I think about the battles that were fought in Fallujah and Kandhar. I bet they were nothing like the "battles" fought at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
I think about Phillip's last thoughts and the last thoughts of the nine other men who were also killed in the crash. I doubt they were anything like when you know might lose a game in the NCAA tournament.
I think about the void that was cast upon our family after Phillip was killed. I doubt it was anything like the void you have after you've coached your last game for a season.
I think about the tears we shed for Phillip and the tears that have been shed for the thousands of lost fathers and mothers killed overseas. They are not the same tears that are shed after sports events.
I think about the psychological toll that war has taken on the thousands of men and women in our country's conflicts over the years. I think about how they can't leave it all on the court because of the PTSD that haunts them every day of their lives.
On this Veterans Day, remember the real battles. Remember that they are significantly more complex and dangerous than the games we play and watch.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Marshall Elinated by Waseca

MARSHALL-It all ended with a hug.
Coach Terry Bahlmann embraced his quarterback and his son, Brad Bahlmann after the Marshall Tigers lost to Waseca Blue Jays 28-14 in the semifinals of the Section Class 4A Section 2 playoffs on Saturday afternoon.
Some hoped that hug would come the following weekend, possibly after a game against Hutchinson, or at the end of a state tournament run.

Article Photos

Photo by David Merrill
Marshall quarterback Brad Bahlmann shares a moment with his dad and coach Terry Bahlmann after the Tigers’ 28-14 loss to Waseca on Saturday, which ended their season.
Instead, it came on the five-yard line on the north end of Mattke Field on Saturday at 4:03 p.m. as members of the Bahlmann family looked on from the stands. It came after the coach addressed his senior players. He spoke to them as a group first and then talked to each one of them individually. There were the lineman, Brent Andries, Kyle Wischer, Reagan Wartner, Spencer Aufenthie, and Brandon Deutz that Coach Bahlmann often said they were most pivotal players on the field.
There was wide receiver Adam Schultz and tight end Aaron Polejewski. Both of them were asked to step up that afternoon in the absence of their injured leading receiver, Drew Hmielewski. They helped get the Tigers have their best receiving game of the year.
There were the guys who gave opposing QB's nightmares, John Lothert and Tom Roelfsema. The two combined for over ten sacks this season.
There were the stalwarts, Jack Bock, Colin VanKeulen, and Collin Reilly, who could be counted on to make the plays on the field and provide the leadership off of it.
There was running back Sam Marshall, who had one of the best seasons for a Tiger running back, ever.
And then there was Brad Bahlmann, who dominated on both sides of the ball all season. He had over fifty tackles and 17 touchdown passes this season. He threw for 210 yards and made four solo tackles that afternoon.
"I'm very proud of this group of young men. They were a great group to coach and made a truly great team. We're going to miss the seniors," said Terry Bahlmann.
After the seniors boarded the bus, Terry made the long walk across the field, through the bleachers and up the stairs to the press box. It was a walk he had made four times already this season, but it seemed extra long and extra lonely on Saturday afternoon.
As members of the Southwest Minnesota State football team warmed up for their game and Waseca fans reveled in their win, Terry was alone with his thoughts.
Maybe he was thinking about how his team let a 7-6 halftime lead slip away after the Blue Jays piled on 22 points in the third quarter.
Maybe he was thinking why this game turned out differently than their Oct. 3rd 35-6 victory against Waseca.
Maybe he was thinking about the Tigers last chance when they blocked a punt with a few minutes to go, but were unable to convert it into a score.
Maybe he was thinking about the crazy start to the game which featured a fumble by the Tigers on the opening kickoff, but an interception on the very next play.
Or maybe, just maybe, he was thinking about his son and his team and what a great season it was.

Nick's Notes: October Nights

Nick’s Notes: October Nights

November 4, 2014
By Nick Hansen (nhansen@marshallindependent.comMarshall Independent
Under most other circumstances, I probably would have forgotten about Oct. 16.
However, with both the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers and the Marshall Tigers volleyball teams making the trip to St. Paul for the state volleyball tournament, that night continues to stick out in my mind. That was the night the Panthers defeated the Tigers in five sets in Tracy.
On paper, Marshall should have won. The Tigers had beaten the Panthers three years in a row without dropping a set.
Class AA teams like Marshall usually beat smaller-school Class A teams like TMB. A friend of mine gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look when I asked about TMB's chances in the match.
However, that week was different.
Marshall defeated St. Peter for the Big South championship on that Tuesday.
Even though they won, it wasn't an inspired performance. The Saints went on more runs than they should have. Also, it seemed at times that the St.Peter B and C teams were cheering louder than the rest of the crowd.
TMB was coming off of two emotional wins.
They got revenge over Minneota in a game that featured a raucous home crowd. They also won their first Camden Conference Championship in a long time by defeating Central Minnesota Christian on the road. Coach Katie Gervais told me that both of those victories were confidence builders.
I thought that if both teams had played like they did earlier in the week, TMB would win in five sets. That's exactly what happened.
You may disagree, but it was the best thing to happen to both teams.
TMB solidified its identity as a scrappy underdog. Those girls didn't have to prove anything. They'd already played some impressive volleyball to finish out the season.
However, they had nothing to lose and that's when you find out the most about a team.
The Panthers played their game. They battled back in sets. They weren't intimidated. They let their emotion fly.
Those are the qualities fuel long postseason runs. I'd fear any team that knows its identity. So, just keep scrapping, Panthers.
Marshall had a rallying event. Rallying events remind you of your mission and clarify what you need to do to accomplish it. Yes, they did have the three straight state championships to rally around, but those were won by other teams. They weren't won by this squad
Dan Westby said that this team has been under more pressure than any team he had seen in a while. Understandably so. I tip my hat to Westby for getting his team to keep the focus on the court.
To their credit, the Tigers have responded well. They have played some of the best volleyball I've seen them play all season. Their win against Jackson County Central was an emotional one. The girls shut out the crowd noise, the pep band, and they just focused on playing.
Mallory Griffin told me after the match that she just focused on getting the ball in the court as she served. She did that and more, helping lead the Tigers back from 8-5 deficit to help win the game.
The Tigers shouldn't worry about a legacy or a streak, just focus on getting the ball in the court. That's what they're good at. Be ruthless and go all in.
Good luck to both the Tigers and Panthers. It's going to be fun.