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Low turnout turns fair’s washers tournament into friendly practice

Jul 14, 2023Jul 14, 2023

Washers flew Wednesday evening at the Cole County Fair as what was scheduled to be a tournament became a brief pitching session between longtime players.

While the event was billed as a tournament, the two teams that registered an hour before it started were the only ones to participate. While the plan had been for there to be a total payout of the registration fees to the winners, the money was returned, the event was canceled and the players were allowed to continue pitching for old time's sake -- without stakes.

Washers is similar to horseshoes, where a pair of two-man teams race to 21 points. Instead of a horseshoe and pole, teams get a washer they try to toss into a small hole. The tournament was played using slanted, cornhole-style boards set 20 feet apart rather than plastic pipes set in the middle of a box, a variation players said was a bit of a regional flavor.

"It's a lot like cornhole, but for talented people," Andy Samson said. "I play often, and I'm hoping it gets to be a bigger draw."

Brad Bruemmer, who pitched on the other team, said the fair had previously offered horseshoes as well, but much of the enthusiasm for both games has been redirected toward cornhole, which sees its own two-day event at the fair today and Friday.

"The beanbags are easier and a lot quieter than washers, and we all used to do it a lot more," Bruemmer said. "A lot of people who used to play regularly just don't have the time anymore. Washers is kind of the cornhole of the past. The bags have kind of wiped it off the board."

The metallic clangs echoed through the fair's exhibition center for a while, as did the chatter between the four players. They said the volume on these events have gone down considerably over the years.

Fair volunteers said the two-day cornhole tournament had been a trend for the past few years, while players said the washers had been absent from the fair's festivities for several years. The teams said that, in days gone by, they'd had to call ahead to ensure they could get into the tournament because it was so busy.

"This seems like the first time they've done this in, what, 10 years or so," Bruemmer said. "I was surprised they were even doing it."

While Bruemmer doesn't play nearly as often, Samson said he's still trying to get some momentum behind the game with events at the Westphalia Lion's Club for the next couple of months. He said for a lot of people, washers is more common during a backyard barbecue with friends.

Bruemmer said word of mouth about the event hadn't helped the turnout at the fair, but they would make the most of it.

"It just wasn't advertised enough, and since there were only two teams this year. I don't know if they'll do this again," he said. "It used to be very exciting, kind of a highlight. But at least we're here, and we're having fun tonight either way."

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