When most people think of an 11-year-old's after-school activities, they envision homework, cartoons and video games.
That's not the case for horseshoe pitcher extraordinaire Dylan Holmberg.
Dylan, who lives in Forest Hills, began pitching horseshoes 16 months ago and hasn't looked back. He pitches for the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America and is recognized as an honorary member of the Clearwater Horseshoe Club.
He competes in tournaments twice a month with kids six years his senior. Dylan has received three scholarships and has acquired nine trophies and over 20 patches. He is a "Class A" pitcher, which designates him as the best of the best.
Officials with the Florida State Horseshoe Pitchers Association already wonder if Dylan may be a future juniors world champion given his performance at the World Tournament in Monroe, La., this year.
Dylan pitched against competitors between the ages of 14 and 17, beat the eventual world champion during qualifying class play and ended up making the championship round, where he finished fifth.
The association's newsletter credited Dylan for conducting himself "as though he were a veteran," never showing too much emotion.
How did this budding horseshoe career begin? Jeff Holmberg said his son asked him repeatedly to learn how to play, but he deterred Dylan, insisting it was a game for grownups. Jeff finally gave in and explained the game of horseshoes to him.
"It became a father-son bonding experience," Jeff said. "It's something we can do at home, just the two of us."
The bonding experience has since turned into a father and son competition, which Dylan dominates.
"I always saw my dad pitching shoes out back with his friends and wanted to learn how to play," Dylan said. "Now, I just about beat him every time. I have a lot of fun pitching with my dad. It's cool because he showed me horseshoes."
When Dylan isn't in class at Forest Hills Elementary or doing homework, he's out behind his house pitching some shoes in a designated area his dad created for him. On average, he'll play a couple of games in an hour's time. Besides his love for horseshoes, Dylan also likes drawing and magic tricks.
Dylan summed up his success at pitching as "keeping my back straight and concentrating on the stake."
He's quiet, but exudes confidence. He will retain his "junior" status for seven more years, which means the stakes will be 30 feet apart rather than the 40-foot distance used in adult competitions.
While pitching horseshoes may seem like play, there is most certainly technique and skill involved in performing at the level Dylan has reached. Throwers long to hear the clang of the horseshoe hitting and completely encircling the stake (known as a ringer), and Dylan has seen his ringer percentage go from a pedestrian 13 percent to an outstanding 58 percent.
Jeff and Dylan travel from the Villages to Bradenton to Beverly Hills for state competitions. Dylan will compete in an international competition in early 2012 in Knoxville, Tenn. He hopes to add to his trophy and patch collection and bring home a World Championship to Tampa.
Paul Driscoll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.