Preserve Tradition: Don't Oust Jousting

EQUINE SPORTS

Which Of These 3 Should Be Maryland's Official Sport?

December 29, 1991|By Muphen R. Whitney

The Maryland legislature declared jousting the state's official sport in 1962.

About every four years since, jousters have found themselves in danger of being ousted off their steady steeds by the likes of duckpin bowlers and lacrosse players who think their sports deserve state recognition.

"We're very concerned this year about the ongoing movement from the duckpin bowlers," said Mike Hoeck of the Amateur Jousting Club of Maryland. "I don't understand why we have to go through this every four years.

"Everyone does a sport, and I'm sure everyone wants his sport in the spotlight," he added. "But jousting already is the Maryland state sport. Every time someone wants to change it, it just wastes a lot of time, effort and money."

Jousters like Hoeck, who has been playing the sport for 26 years, are urging the legislature to retain the game's official state status.

They are up in arms, so to speak, about House Bill 96, also known as the Dreaded Duckpin Bowling Bill. The bill, expected to be considered by the legislature when it convenes next month, would designate duckpin bowling the state sport.

Duckpinners have actually been so crass as to hire "a professional public relations firm to promote their effort," according to a letter from the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association Inc.

Since the MJTA is "a non-commercial organization, unlike the duckpin bowlers," the jousters "cannot afford to hire professional public relation firms," the letter pointed out.

Instead, jousters are spearheading petition drives and writing letters to lawmakers to defend their sport.

Jousting? Isn't that a blood sport? Don't people get hurt doing that?

Only in medieval adventure movies. Instead of ramming each other, jousters today use lances to pick up rings suspended nearly seven feet off the ground.

Aboard their trusty steeds, jousters gallop toward the rings at speeds that can approach 35 mph. Jousting is exhilarating and exacting and requires stamina and exquisite hand-eye coordination.

Mike Virts of Jefferson has been state champion everyyear except two since 1979. He is considered to be the best because his concentration is the best.

Like other players, Virts grew up in a jousting family and began jousting through 4-H programs. He grew up on a dairy farm and began riding before he could walk.

Besides competing, Virts also likes to give jousting exhibitions -- somethingas important to him as winning tournaments.

"When we give the exhibitions and compete in tournaments, we convey part of our heritage,"Virts said. "Jousting came over with settlers in Maryland in the 1600s and is closely linked with England; with jousting, we carry on an ancient and medieval tradition that was a way of life. We want to pass that heritage on to the next generation."

Carrying on that tradition is one reason why jousting should remain the state sport, said an MJTA spokesman.

While jousting is a purely amateur sport, duckpin bowling is tainted by commercialism.

"Jousting is truly an amateur sport," says Bruce Hoffman, president of the Amateur Jousting Clubof Maryland. "No one makes any money on it at all. Jousting doesn't receive its backing as the state sport because it supports an industry, but because it is part of our heritage and because it is an exciting sport to watch and to take part in."

Hoeck points out that anybody can take part in the sport.

"My whole family -- wife Carol Annand daughters aged 9, 12, and 16 -- join in," he said.

Carol Ann Hoeck, who has been jousting for 33 years, added, "We have lots of supporters who don't ride. They come for the colorful pageantry and thehistory that the sport depicts. There is keen competition and the excitement that comes from pinpoint accuracy."

The big questions are: Will the lacrosse players and the duckpin bowlers get off their high horses and go back to their lacrosse fields and bowling lanes?

Will the Maryland legislature change horses in midstream? Will the jousters prove their point?

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