ELKHART — Eryn Sanders might be a little too old for a spanking from her father, but he delivered a thorough one nonetheless last weekend. In public, too.
“He beat me pretty good,” Eryn admitted of her 30-15 loss to her dad, Larry Sanders, in the Class F championship of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair horseshoe pitching competition. “Thirty-15, that’s a pretty good beating.”
It’s a beating that Eryn, 24, says she had to talk her dad into even attempting. “He didn’t want to play this year because he said he didn’t want to beat me, and I told him, ‘I would rather lose to you than anyone else,’” said Eryn, who grew up in Elkhart and moved about a year ago to Kokomo, where she’s a nurse.
Until this year, dad and daughter had never been in the same class.
Longtime fair horseshoes director Judy Good said it’s the first time she could ever remember any dad-daughter finishing 1-2 in the same class.
Larry, 53, first tried horseshoes at the fair in 2009. The Elkhartan experienced immediate success, winning Class H.
He moved up to Class G in 2010 and won again. Then he finished second and third in Class F in 2011 and 2012 before prevailing this year.
Eryn joined the fair fray in 2010, and just like her dad, won Class H in her debut year.
She took second in Class G in 2011 and notched the Class G title last year, resulting in her move up to F this year.
Next year, Larry will move to Class E by virtue of his latest win.
While dad may not have wanted to face his daughter initially, he had no problem competing once the competition was indeed under way.
“She’s a little more competitive than I am, but I didn’t want her to beat me,” Larry said.
Dad felt like he had an advantage in their matchup.
“I think she gets uptight when she plays me,” Larry said. “She was kicking the other guys’ butts.”
Eryn lost to Larry twice, also doing so in the opening matchup of the round-robin preliminaries.
Eryn, though, proceeded to go 3-0 against the other three individuals entered, all men, while her dad went 2-1, setting up their championship showdown.
“I like (horseshoes) because there’s not many girls in it,” Eryn said. “I like competing with the guys. They look at me and it’s like, ‘Oh, here comes a girl. This will be easy.’”
There’s another reason she likes it, too.
“It’s something I get to do with my dad and something that’s been part of our family for a long time,” Eryn said.
Larry estimates he’s been pitching horseshoes since age 12.
“Just for the fun of it, and the competition,” Larry said of what makes the sport attractive.
He picked it up from his father, Franklin, who died in 2007.
Both Larry and Eryn use sets of horseshoes that were passed down from Franklin.
Eryn, who also started pitching around age 12, has painted her horseshoes neon pink; Larry has not.
Despite their long affiliations with the sport, including a pit at Larry’s home, the Sanders weren’t aware of the competition offered at the fair until a few years ago.
“I’m glad we found out, because it’s fun to do it with my dad,” Eryn said, adding that the prospect of making the trip from Kokomo for the first time didn’t deter her from wanting to continue the tradition.
Still, it was a trip that almost wasn’t quite completed.
At a local gas station on their way to the fair together, Eryn accidentally locked her keys in the trunk. A neighbor came to the rescue, allowing her and Larry to barely make it in time.
“She was about in tears,” Larry said of his daughter, “but it all worked out.”
“It was stressful getting there,” Eryn said, “but it was worth it.”