Tuesday was the kind of night Jim Gridley used to live for.
There were just a few puffy clouds in the sky, and a gentle breeze was blowing off the Rock River. A big crowd had gathered at Lawrence Park for an evening of pitching in the Twin Cities Handicap Horseshoe League.
"Jim would do whatever it took to keep this league going," said one of the pitchers, Tim Fisher. "He called new people up all the time, trying to get them down here. He was down here by himself, fixing the stakes and doing whatever needed to be done. He loved the sport."
Gridley died on Oct. 16, 2012, at the age of 82, after more than 3 decades of involvement in the Dixon and Twin Cities leagues. Lawrence Park will have a permanent reminder of Gridley's involvement with the sport.
In the past few weeks, the Sterling Park District erected a bench, entrenched in concrete, adjacent to the Lawrence Park horseshoe pits. A plaque is attached and reads: James H. Gridley of Dixon; League Secretary; 1994-2012. Gridley's horseshoes are on both sides of the plaque.
Gridley's family was on hand for a dedication prior to Tuesday's action. His widow, Ellen, noted she never really got into horseshoes, despite having a pit in the backyard that her husband practiced on. Instead, she was into gardening.
"I made sure I had supper ready so he could leave a little after five to be over here," Ellen said.
Gridley started pitching in the Dixon league in 1981, and took the title in his first year of competition. The following year, an injury to his right [pitching] elbow barely slowed him down. He just threw left-handed.
"He just had a lot of drive for horseshoes," said Don Dudley, the current Twin Cities Horseshoe League president. "The year that he pitched and hurt his elbow, and then he finished left-handed, I can't imagine throwing left-handed. Forty feet, that's a long way to throw even right-handed.
"Jim was really competitive, and a good guy."
Gridley competed in Dixon from 1981 until the league dissolved in 1998. He served as secretary/treasurer from 1992-1998.
In 1994, he also began competing in the Twin Cities League, and served as the secretary/treasurer his entire run in the league. He kept detailed stats each week, something which Fisher, who now wears the secretary/treasurer hat, truly appreciates.
"Everybody loves to pitch, but nobody wants to do all the hard work," Fisher said. "It's been big shoes to fill."
Gridley was more than just somebody who compiled stats, kept the books and loved to pitch horseshoes. He was a league champion multiple times in both Dixon and Sterling.
"Every time I had to pitch him, he seemed to kick my butt," Fisher said. "One year it came down to me winning first place, and I had to beat him. He showed no mercy and just gave it to me, and I ended up losing. He didn't give in. He was a fun guy to pitch with, and he was a great competitor."