NEW MANCHESTER-Tossing ceramic doorknobs into an old car tire filled with sand on a beautiful August afternoon is Perry Howard's idea of fun.
It's also work.
Howard is helping keep alive the local tradition of doorknob tossing through the East Liverpool chapter of the National Doorknob Tossers Association, which, on Saturday, sponsored a doorknob tossing tournament at Tomlinson Run State Park.
A blue doorknob leaves Dalton Champ’s hands during Saturday’s doorknob tossing tournament at Tomlinson Run State Park, while his rival, David Campbell, anxiously awaits the outcome of the toss. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
Howard, 53, of East Liverpool, is a three-time singles champion and three-time doubles champion of the Doorknob Tossing tournament at the annual Tri-State Pottery Festival in June. This year, he nearly repeated in the singles category but lost 21-20 to his 23-year-old nephew.
"I'd gone 10 years without winning (a championship). I was so close. I had it in my hands," Howard said.
Howard describes himself as naturally competitive-he likes to win-but on Saturday he was more a patient coach instructing people in the rudiments of the game.
"Pretend like you have an egg," he said. "You want to throw it soft into the air."
Howard, who started tossing doorknobs in his early 20s, said it's important to have a good arc, a complete follow-through and a light touch when playing the game of doorknob tossing.
A former pottery worker and journeyman caster, Howard learned about the modern version of doorknob tossing at the Tri-State Pottery Festival. "I was like, 'I can do this,' " he said.
It wasn't long before he was winning championships. His doubles partner, J.R. Speece, 44, of New Manchester, was among those participating in Saturday's tournament. Speece is passing on the tradition to his son, Colton, 16.
"We used to play horseshoes all the time, but then we found out this was easier on the arms, so we started playing this instead," Speece said. "We pretty much stay with this game."
Speece likes the fact that doorknob tossing, even though a recreational pastime, celebrates the industrial heritage of the tri-state area. "It's part of the history of the potteries," he said. "It's not something you see everywhere."
When Speece used to vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, he played doorknob tossing right on the beach, drawing a circle in the sand and putting a cup in the middle of the circle.
"People were like, 'What is that? Where can I get that?' I could have sat there and sold sets all day long," he said.
Knob Toss Game sets are sold by the Tri-State Pottery Festival Association for $10 each, plus $3 postage and handling. The game comes with an extra set of doorknobs in case one of the knobs breaks.
Doorknob tossing dates back to the early 20th century, when pottery workers would toss discarded doorknobs at cans buried in the dirt, according to a 1985 resolution by East Liverpool City Council establishing doorknob tossing as the city's official game.
Doorknob production at East Liverpool potteries began in 1849, and, at one time, millions of imperfect doorknobs were dumped along the Ohio River, according to the resolution.
As those discarded doorknobs became harder to find, the game of doorknob tossing went into a period of decline. It was resurrected by Tri-State Pottery Festival officials in the 1980s, and, today, doorknobs for the game sets are made specially by the Homer Laughlin China Co. in Newell.
The City Council resolution declares doorknob tossing to be "far superior" to horseshoes, stating that it helps "develop a keen eye, a cool head and coordination of the senses." Doorknob tossing follows roughly the same rules as horseshoes.
Howard said the National Doorknob Tossers Association has about 10 chapters in the tri-state area and that the East Liverpool chapter has more than 25 members. The chapter hosts about three tournaments a year, but he and Speece also are fond of playing the game in their backyards.
Among those participating in Saturday's tournament were two young men named Dalton Champ, 17, and David Campbell, 16, both of New Manchester. In this case, Champ did not live up to his name, and Campbell won "bragging rights" by beating him 21-15.
"Nine times out of 10, I throw either too hard or not enough," Campbell said in frustration during the game.
"Until yesterday," Champ said, "I didn't know this game existed."