Eli Sullivan, Crozet Horseshoe Prodigy, Best in World

Eli Sullivan. Photo: Mike Marshall.

He’s number one…again! Eli Sullivan, an 11-year-old Henley student, competed in the cadet class of the World Horseshoe Tournament in Lansing, Michigan in July, and held on to his first-place status. Sullivan, who has also won three Virginia State Championships, faced other top young pitchers in an intense competition over several days. The World Tournament is sponsored by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association.

The intensity doesn’t bother him: Sullivan’s pitching always draws a crowd, but he remains calm and focused. That’s a skill he’s displayed since his early days of pitching. “I need to work on consistency, though,” he said. Eli chooses to pitch from 30 feet instead of the 20-foot distance allowed for cadets, and he likes to throw a heavier horseshoe, so it doesn’t pop off the stake if his opponent strikes it. Horseshoe scores count the final, rather than the original, position of the shoe, so if a ringer pops off, its pitcher loses that score. When Eli talks about consistency, he means the very subtle twist or small flip he gives the horseshoe each time he pitches, giving it a slightly better position. 

Regardless of his resolution to improve, Eli’s percentage of winning pitches is impressive. He came away from the world tournament with an astonishing 80% ringers, a measure of the skill that helps him beat even the talented adults he often competes against. 

Pitching horseshoes is a family hobby for the Sullivans. Eli’s father, Evan, started out pitching at Crozet Park when it still had horseshoe pits. A competitive pitcher himself, Evan was slowed down last year by a major leg injury. Eight Sullivan family members made the long trip to Michigan, where they appreciated the break from Virginia’s humidity and enjoyed the breezes blowing off Lake Erie. Eli said his brother, Jensen, who’s 8 years old, is a promising competitor, too. The way the different age groups work, the two won’t be competing against each other in tournaments.

Eli enjoyed meeting some of the other high-ranked cadets who made it to Michigan. One of them, T.J. Close, was brought to Michigan by an adult pitcher who lives several states away. “The horseshoe world is a real family,” Evan said.

How does an 11-year-old retain focus and composure with hundreds, including the best adult pitchers in the world, watching him? Eli always gives the same answer. “I don’t think about who’s looking,” he said. “I think about throwing the horseshoe, and about having fun.”

Next year, Eli will defend his title in Washington State. Fans can support the Sullivan family in making the cross-country trip by leaving donations at Parkway Pharmacy. 


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