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City honors horseshoe leader

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Sharon and Harlen Rippetoe of Big Valley Horseshoe League stand by the monument dedicated to them for all their hard work and dedication to the horseshoe facility at Rotary Park.


Harlen Rippetoe moved to Madera 22 years ago and since then, he has helped grow the sport he loves in Madera. Because of his dedication to horseshoe pitching, the City of Madera honored Rippetoe with a monument outside the horseshoe courts at Rotary Park last week.

“My wife and I are overwhelmed,” he said. “We are very honored. The horseshoe league has been a big part of my life when I came to Madera 22 years ago. We started at the bowling alley.”

When Rippetoe began working in Madera, he found out the city received a grant and suggested installing horseshoe courts in Rotary Park.

“I was serving at the transportation agency and heard the city got a park grant,” Rippetoe said. “I requested money for horseshoe pits. We built 10 courts at Rotary Park and they are state-of-the-art. They are probably among the best horseshoe pits in the state of California.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Since then, the courts are home to the Big Valley Horseshoe League, which features about 120 players every Wednesday.

“It’s been fun,” he said. “In the summer, they barbecue and bring their kids out. We’ve never had an ounce of trouble. We’re very proud of the horseshoe league.”

Rippetoe said that he couldn’t have done it without a special someone by his side — his wife, Sharon.

“For the past 22 years, my wife has been with me. Her name is well-deserving to be on that plaque,” Harlen said.

Rippetoe is humbled to receive the monument, but he says it couldn’t be done without the cooperation from the City of Madera Parks and Community Services Department.

“I can’t thank the parks department enough,” he said. “We have partnered with them for 20-plus years. We maintain any horseshoe pit in the county at no cost to the department. If anyone has a tournament and they don’t have horseshoe, they contact us. We will go out there and show them how to do it.”

Rippetoe said his league has built 10-12 new horseshoe courts in Madera and have refurbished many more.

“We refurbished the ones at Pan American and Town and Country Park,” he said. “We built some courts in Coarsegold and at the American Legion. Anyone that requests it, we figure out how to do it. We get the supplies and take care of it.”

When it came down to unveiling the monument, the word Rippetoe used was ‘overwhelmed.’ He was just thinking he was getting a sign, but when the cover came off the monument, he was speechless.

“I thought they were just going to put a sign up there like they did with Mike Molina Field at Madera American Little League,” Rippetoe said. “I had no clue it was going to be what it was. When they pulled the sheet off, my wife and I were overwhelmed. It is a beautiful plaque. I appreciate it. I got to meet a lot of dignitaries. It was a nice ceremony. To be honored by my peers is what makes me feel the best.”

In the summer, Rippetoe and his “crew” worked to re-paint the fencing along the horseshoe courts.

“On July, 15, we had a crew of 14 people that went out there to paint the fence around the pits,” Rippetoe said. “The fence was 17 years old. It was getting rusty and in disrepair. I worked with Hector Sanchez with the parks department. We got a crew together and did it. Those guys are willing to do anything for the horseshoe courts.”

At first, 10 courts were built, but the horseshoe league expanded the courts to 12.

“When the grant was given to the city, they were going to build us a storage shack of cinder blocks,” Rippetoe said. “When it came time to do that, they didn’t have the money. We had 20 feet of unused space and put in two more courts. We now have 12 courts. If I had eight more courts, we could probably have the state tournament here. I’ve submitted proposals to try to get that event down the road.”

Because of the work Rippetoe put in and the time the parks department gave him, Rippetoe said that the Rotary Park Horseshoe Courts are one of the best in the State.

“I’ve been to a lot of them,” he said. “I went from one state to the next to research the lighting. You can pitch accurately at midnight because those lights are so good. When we first put them in, we got a request from the drive-in to shut off one of the banks.”

Rippetoe said he appreciated the monument and also appreciated all of the people that came out to the ceremony, including players from his horseshoe league.

“I can’t give enough thanks to the parks department,” he said. “Hector Sanchez has been great to work with. I appreciate the horseshoe players the most. We represent nine cities. They come from Dos Palos, Visalia, Sanger, Auberry, Madera, Fresno and more just to pitch horseshoes. Anybody that is willing to drive that far at these gas prices, my hats are off to them. I joke that I get an extra payment from their wife to get them out of the house.”

Rippetoe has been elected into two horseshoe Hall of Fames and said that last week’s ceremony eclipsed those ceremonies.

“Sharon and I are overwhelmed and very honored,” he said. “I’ve been elected into two Hall of Fames (World Police and Fire Games Hall of Fame and Northern California Horseshoe Pitcher’s Association). This was really big and it came from my peers. That’s what I appreciated the most.”


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