As the saying goes, "close" only counts in two instances.

As the saying goes, "close" only counts in two instances.

Members of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, meeting in Knoxville for their annual World Tournament, will verify that it is true in one area. There are fewer people to ask about the other.

The tournament clanked into full swing Monday morning with an opening ceremony somewhere short of Friday's extravaganza in London but with much the same effect — the beginning of about two weeks of games between people of varied backgrounds from multiple countries.

One was Richard "Dick" Seyler, a semi-retired school principal and superintendent from Felton, Del., who is now an adjunct professor at Wilmington University.

"I love it," he says of his non-academic pastime.

Like many, Seyler got his introduction to horseshoe pitching long ago, but he only got into tournament-level play in the past five years.

There is a regular local meet on Monday nights near Felton, which is about 12 miles south of Dover.

"And I make about four or five tournaments a year" in addition to the event that's now at the Knoxville Convention Center, he said.

Seyler proudly wears a shirt with patches signifying the World Tournaments he has attended and says that in 2010 he won his classification.

Tina Hawkins, NHPA's 2nd vice president and publicity/promotions director, said about 1,230 people will be participating in the tournament from all across the U.S. and Canada. In years past, she said, there have been competitors from South Africa, and next year she is expecting some from Namibia.

Participants do not use real horseshoes, she said, meaning no horses are running around in their stocking feet because these folks took their shoes.

Everyone brings his or her own horseshoes specially designed for pitching. They are larger than the ones horses wear and have a wider open end.

Hawkins, of Marlow, Okla. says she calls it "pitching" when her game is on and "throwing" when it is not.

The pegs the contestants throw at are planted in what Hawkins called "Kentucky blue clay," which she says has about the consistency of modeling clay and will snare the horseshoe where it lands, minimizing the possibility that it will hit and slide into being a "ringer."

"It's the same stuff they make bricks out of," she said.

Horseshoes landing within six inches of the peg get one point and ringers get three. Each competitor tosses two shoes, with the closest one cancelling out the points of the other. Ringers by both throwers cancel each other.

Each participant pitches 40 shoes per game, swapping ends after each pair. Pegs are 40 feet apart.

Judges make the close calls, and Hawkins says, yes, close does count.

Seyler, 65, said he will pitch "a couple of hundred shoes" before a tournament and that a tournament will consist of 300 to 400 tosses.

Competitors have varying techniques, he said. He throws with the open end toward the peg but makes it turn a three-quarter horizontal turn in flight.

Others, like Steve Washko of Springfield, Ill., hold the shoe by the side opposite the opening and try to make it execute one reverse turn, like gymnast doing a back flip.

Washko, 71, has been retired 14½ years and pitching horseshoes in tournament play for about five years. In one game Monday he had 13 ringers in one 40-shoe game.

Two years ago, he said, he won his class, just as Seyler did. Participants are classified for the tournament by their ringer average, meaning the ratio of recorded ringers to the total number of shoes tossed.

Washko won with an 18.13 percent average. Seyler's was 19 percent.

Brian Simmons and Alan Francis have dominated the competition since 1995 with averages ranging from 78.6 percent to 90.3 percent.

The overall winner of the tournament wins $4,000, and other winners less.

Winners in the youth classifications win scholarships, Hawkins said.

Nationwide, she said, NHPA membership is more than 10,000. Next year's tournament will be in St. George, Utah.