SANDWICH — Have you ever pulled a skillet out of a soapy sink and thought, “I wonder how far I could throw this thing?” If you have, you have something in common with the hundred-plus women who sought to answer that question at the Sandwich Fair on Monday.
The Ladies’ Skillet Toss was brought to the fair in 2010, an idea dreamed up by Betty Alcock. Since the fair was canceled last year due to the pandemic, this year was the 10th skillet toss competition, and organizers say the event continues to grow in popularity, bringing participants in the triple digits and many times their number in spectators.
“It has grown every year,” said Shannon Bickford-Zelsnack. It proved so popular that the boyfriends, husbands and brothers became jealous, she said. “Seven years ago, we added the (Gentlemen’s) Keg Toss. The guys were like, we need something.”
So long as she’s at least 18, any lady can sign up for the skillet toss. Competitors are divided up between five age categories, with the top division for ladies 71 and older. That one covers a lot of territory, as the very first skillet in 2010 was tossed by Edna Bickford on her 101st birthday as the crowd sang “Happy Birthday To You,” and a few years later, Bunny Michael, 102, had a toss.
The skillet in question is custom-made for competition, not cooking. It’s made of steel, painted black, as cast iron pans wouldn’t stand up to the continued impacts. It weighs 3.2 pounds, measures 9 inches across, and has a five-inch handle.
The rules of the event are simple. No overhand or discus techniques, only underhand tosses are allowed. And accuracy as well as distance are rewarded. A cord runs down the field of competition; if the skillet lands too far to the left or right of the cord, that deviation is deducted from the total distance. For example, if a throw is 25 feet, but lands 3 feet off to the side, then the lady’s distance is marked as 22 feet.
Bickford-Zelsnack said one interesting thing about the event is that it’s impossible to tell, just by looking at the competitors, how well they’ll perform. A good throw is often ruined by a foot fault, when the tosser steps on or over the line she’s supposed to throw behind. Other than that, she advised tossers to carefully time their release to create the most efficient flight path. Height excites the crowd, but it often comes at the expense of distance.
Lynn Carey, a landscaper from Freedom with a lean, athletic build, is a ringer in the world of skillet tossing. She has participated in every skillet toss at the Sandwich Fair since it started, and on Monday won her third grand champion’s trophy, which is, of course, a skillet.
“It’s something to do that’s fun,” Carey said about why she keeps coming back. The crowd neither invigorates nor intimidates her, “I just focus,” she said, and she never practices beforehand. She just shows up and hurls steel: Carey holds the event record of 61 feet, 6 inches.
Joanne Haight, of Sandwich, is another long-time competitor. “I’ve won my division, and I’ve foot faulted,” she said. One reason why the event keeps her coming back is the competition within the competition. She challenges her daughters, and the winner earns “bragging rights all year.”
Courtney Schmidt, of Wolfeboro, was brought along by her friend, Hillary Mangan of Tamworth, who had always wanted to try the event. Mangan explained, “What’s more fun than tossing a skillet in front of friends?”
Waiting for her turn, Schmidt said she could see the appeal. “I think people just like to try new (stuff),” she said. “There’s probably some deep-seated reason for a lot of ladies.”
For third-time competitor Carolyn Goethert, of Concord, Massachusetts, the event exemplified the low-tech fun that she appreciates about the Sandwich Fair. The skillet toss, like the gentlemen’s keg toss or the children’s tractor pull, offer a kind of simple competition that just about anyone could sign up for.
“No bells or whistles, just fun,” Goethert said.
A great comeback
The keg toss, skillet toss, and children’s tractor pull are all free and people can register right before the competition, which helps people feel like they get good value for their ticket price, said Dan Peaslee, president of the Sandwich Fair.
The total number of vendors was down, only about 85 percent of what they normally attract, Peaslee said. On the other hand, the fair was blessed with good to great weather for all three days, and the crowds came. Saturday was close to record setting, Sunday could break records once all accounting was done, and the final day was looking strong also, he said at late morning on Monday.
“Compared to last year, we’re really happy,” Peaslee said.