BENNINGTON -- There's an old saying that goes: "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
For two local horseshoe pitchers, close won't cut it in two weeks.
Mike George and Wade Hill, members of the Bennington Horseshoe Club, will need to score ringers early and often when the pair competes at the World Horseshoe Pitching Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., in the first week of August.
"It's a headgame," said George, the president of the Bennington Horseshoe Club and a member of the state's Hall of Fame. "If a guy is on a roll, you need to adjust quickly because games go fast."
At the worlds, throwers are put into classes split up by ringer percentage -- the number of shoes that get around the pole. In the F Class, where George competes, he's ranked third out of 16 players with a 35.89 percentage. But the competition is extremely tight with less than 1 percent separating top from bottom.
Hill, in the G class, has a ringer percentage of 32.95 percent, ranking him 12th out of 16.
Each thrower will play 15 games over three days, facing each opponent in their class once. Games are 40 shoes long and whoever has the highest total after 40 shoes wins.
The locals are two of 12 Vermonters making the trip. The Green Mountain State also claims the most recent champion in Brian Simmons, from Bristol. Simmons, who plays with the Sodbusters Horseshoe Club in Middlebury, has a ringer percentage at an staggering 85.35 percent.
Both Hill, 47, and George, 49, have been practicing a lot to get ready for the tournament, throwing 350 shoes each Friday along with normal club play to get their rhythm and timing down perfect.
"We've been throwing to try to get onto a run," George said.
To qualify for the worlds, throwers have to compete in at least four sanctioned tournaments in their state. Most, including George (nine) and Hill (13) have been in much more than that.
"Everyone shoots the same, so there's no gimmies," said George, who has been a part of the Bennington Horseshoe Club since 1997 and is now president. Hill has played in Bennington for the past seven years.
While this will be Hill's first trip to a world championship, it will be the second for George. He went to Wisconsin in 2003, finishing seventh in his group.
The tournament takes place inside at the Knoxville Convention Center, so not dealing with the elements will make life easier for the throwers.
"The wind can take a shoe and move it around," George said. "And it's easier when you don't have sweat running down your face."
The Bennington club will host the state tournament this season on Aug. 18-19 at Willow Park.