Two things came as no surprise to regular attendees of Trinity Lutheran Church's dutch picnic this weekend: the weather was spectacular and Mike Virts, Knight of St. Marks, won the championship trophy at the jousting tournament.
"It's only rained three times since they started this picnic in 1877," said Tom Diffendal of Finksburg. Diffendal, who has been a drummer with the Westminster Band since 1935, was doing drum duty this year with the specially-formed band at the picnic.
Jouster Mike Virts' experience with the dutch picnic goes back to 1967 and Virts and his family are establishing their own traditions here.
"I haven't missed coming here since my first time in 1967 when I was 13 years old," said Maryland's perennial champion jouster. "I remember that first one very well because I had just moved up to the amateur class.
"Back then there weren't very many tournaments in the whole state; you could list them all on one sheet of paper."
In the intervening 25 years the fortunes of both the sport of jousting and Mike Virts have improved. Jousting tournaments are held at least every weekend throughout the state and Mike Virts has moved up to the Pro and Trophy classes.
Virts once again won these classes at the Dutch Picnic, riding his fast sorrel mare Sweet Brandy Straw, "Brandy" to her friends. This 7-year-old registered American Quarter Horse carried Virts to the winner's circle in both classes.
Jousting is a family affair,and there were two other Virts family members in the lists at the 116th Dutch Picnic. Mike's wife Nancy, Maid of St. Marks, and son Mike Jr., Little Knight of St. Marks, both competed in the Novice class. Another son, 3-year-old Shane, cheered on the family when he wasn't fast asleep.
"He already is very interested in jousting," Nancy Virts says of Shane. "We have to pry him off the horses and he runs through the yard saying he's going to be a jouster like his daddy and brother when he gets big."
"I ask him, 'What about like Mommy? I joust, too!' "
Mike Jr. put in great runs on his handsome Pinto gelding Thunder to take first prize in the Novice class. Thunder's victory was accompanied by the strains of John Phillip Sousa's Thunderer March, compliments of the band.
Nancy Virts rode her Appaloosa gelding Timex to a fourth place in the Novice class. Nancy considers Timex -- 14.3 hands tall -- to be the ideal size for jousting.
"And he's very smooth," she says. "I knew he would make a good jousting horse, but Mike doesn't like him because he says he's so ugly. But after you ride him, every other horse seems so rough."
The Virts family was back this year to defend titles from last year, when Nancy was third in the Novice and Mike Sr., won the Pro and Trophy classes. Jousting being a family sport, other families returned to uphold their honor.
Ensors, Kirkendalls, Cotters and Schultzes all turned out this year to aim their spears at the rings and make the --ing gallop down the track to keep alive the Maryland heritage of jousting.
Novice class: 1. Michael Virts Jr., Little Knight of St. Marks; 2. Misty George, Maid of Misty Valley; 3. Jesse Ensor Jr., Knight of Twin Rivers Overlook; 4. Nancy Virts, Maid of St. Marks.
Amateur class: 1. Chris Kirkendall, Maid of Zach's Mommy; 2. Brenda Cotter, Maid of Deer Track; 3. David George, Knight of Stonewall Valley; 4. Taryn Kirkendall, Maid of Flying Colors.
Semi-pro class: 1. Taryn Kirkendall, Maid of Flying Colors; 2. Robin Cotter, Maid of Sugar Loaf; 3. Chris Kirkendall, Maid of Zach's Mommy; 4. Morris Schultz, Knight of Rose Bud.
Pro class: 1. Mike Virts, Knight of St. Marks; 2. Sam Kirkendall, Knight of Rolls Adventure; 3. Dick Kershner, Knight of Walnut Lane; 4. Robert Cotter, Knight of Sugar Loaf.
Trophy class: Champion: Mike Virts. Mike now has two legs on this perpetual trophy which requires three wins to retire it. Mike retired the trophy for the first time in 1990.