Saturday, August 25th proved to be a picture-perfect day for a stone skipping event in Franklin! With temperatures in the low 80s and plenty of sunshine, several hundred folks turned out to watch what has become the nation’s premiere competitive stone skipping event, with perhaps the exception of Mackinac Island. This event continues to grow with each successive year, and this year saw participants arriving from no fewer than five states and Canada. New to this year’s event was competitor Melissa McLaughlin, who made the trip all the way from Boston, Massachusetts with her sister Hillary and friend Ian. While not quite good enough to put her in the top five, Melissa’s high score of 32 was an accomplishment to be proud of, and probably the best score ever at the event by a woman.
The event always provides ample entertainment for the entire family. Several food vendors were on-hand, as well as a petting zoo and free kayak demos. Plenty of children’s’ activities were available, including a rock painting competition that was open to kids of all ages, as well as adults.
Over the past several years, the event has seen the emergence of several stone skipping “teams.” Perhaps the most prominent of these is Team Elwell. Now dubbed “The Erie Entourage,” Team Elwell numbered in the 30s in attendance this year. The group consists of friends, family, and skipping fanatics, and was formed to support pro skipper Mark Elwell. Team Elwell sport a different matching shirt every year, which now features a custom team logo on the front and a huge list of sponsors on the back.
The 2012 field of pro competitors turned out to be the largest ever in the history of the event and included 41 rookie and veteran pro skippers. The prerequisite to enter the pro division is to have thrown a minimum of 20 skips at some point in the amateur division. Competition is as heated as ever, with at least a dozen very capable shooters who are fully intent on taking away the crown from Kurt Steiner, the 2011 winner, or Franklin’s own Russ Byars, who has held the title more than any other skipper.
Paul Fero of Big Indian, New York, came out swinging in round one, as did Greg Winger of Franklin, both with scores of 30. But Russ Byars answered immediately in Round Two with a solid 39, knocking out Winger’s 35 and another 35 thrown by Dave Ohmer of Titusville. But Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner vindicated his lowly Round One score of 5 with a crowd-pleasing 40, beating Byars by just one skip. Round Three provided a weak showing from everyone except Eric Henne of Ithaca, NY. Eric has proven his meddle in this competition, having placed Second in last year’s event. Rounds Four and Five resulted in failed attempts by the heavy hitters to take on Steiner’s 40, but Round Six, the final round, quickly got hot, as both Eric Henne and Paul Fero came through with skips of 40. Byars lost his groove and only scored a 1 for the final round.
So with a three-way tie based on scores of 40, the judges dropped down to each competitor’s second-best score, which resulted in first place going to Kurt Steiner with scores of 40 and 39; Eric Henne with 40 and 37; and Paul Fero with 40 and 32. Byars settled into Fourth Place with his high score of 39.
The Amateur title went to Jeff Minnick of Elyria, Ohio, with a best skip of 30; Second Place went to Glenn Zorich of West Bridgewater, PA (29 and 27); and Third Place to Jill Takach of Grove City (29 and 22). First Place in the Youth Division was awarded to Jared Oliver of Venus, PA, with 27; Second to Alex Ferry of Warren, PA, with 23; and Third Place to Eric Elwell of Erie, PA, with 15.