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Skipping stones for fudge on Pa.'s river of the year

Plus, a journey to the Breezewood Galaxy.


July 22, 2022
Inside this edition: Heinz hold, scary people, bingo state, pool kids, riding high, Breezewood beauty, and how to walk on water.

Which athlete, namesake of a town in Pennsylvania, was reinstated as an Olympic gold medal winner last Friday, 110 years after he competed?

(Keep scrolling for the answers, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

» One thing worth knowing: Turns out the ketchup isn't coming down at the old Heinz Field, which reminds us: Did you know the Steelers were once called the Pirates and the Pirates the Alleghenys?

» One place worth pinning: Haunted house haters, beware: NPR profiled Funland's Haunted Mansion at Rehoboth Beach and the suspiciously normal-looking people behind the horror

» One thing worth playing: The manufactured holiday known as National Pennsylvania Day is over. But an official bingo card to test your Pennsylvania-ness™️ is the gift that keeps on giving.

» One thing worth reading: While my community pool was literally crashed by a thirsty rat last week, I wouldn't give it up for anything, especially in this heat. The Inquirer has a city pool appreciation.

» Two things worth seeing: SEPTA regional rail is going big with double-decker rail cars that are expected to arrive from China next year; and the Breezewood Galaxy is maybe the most beautiful of them all.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

» You’re invited! A free virtual panel on the new $45 billion Pa. budget and what it prioritizes

» A beginner’s guide to requesting public records on Pa. law enforcement agencies

» Five takeaways from our event on Pennsylvania’s flawed police hiring database

» What is the independent state legislature doctrine, and why does it matter for Pa.?

» Spotlight PA tested government transparency in Centre County. Tell us what to look for in the salary data.
Professional stone skipper Dave “Spiderman” Ohmer. (PA Stone Skipping Championship)

Stone skipping champions are made in Pennsylvania, on the banks of the award-winning French Creek.

Every year a cavalcade of top-tier “rock stars” from this state and beyond descends on Riverfront Park in Franklin, Venango County, to whip it good — like, really good.

Past competitors include Dave “Spiderman” Ohmer of Erie, who handpicks his stones from his local Great Lake, Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner of Emporium, who set a world record with a jaw-dropping 88 skips nearly a decade ago, Melissa McLaughlin from Boston, and Keisuke Hashimoto, an office worker and prodigious thrower all the way from Japan.

This year’s contest is a go, Ronnie Beith, Franklin’s events and marketing coordinator, confirms, with Ohmer and Steiner, who’s reportedly recovering from shoulder surgery, set to attend. 

They’ll be joined by roughly two dozen other professionals from Illinois, Indiana, Vermont, New York, and Canada — not to mention 15 youth and 30 amateurs competing separately.

Registration kicks off at 10 a.m. on Aug. 20. The professionals skip at 2:30 p.m.

Beith said this all started 22 years ago, adding, “It originally was part of an event called the Oil Region River Romp.” Inspired by a stone skipping competition in Mackinac Island, Michigan — the oldest in the U.S. — organizers launched their own. It draws hundreds of spectators a year.

“Prizes are plaques and fudge,” Beith added of the winners. 

So what makes for a fudge-worthy stone’s throw? 

Dave “Spiderman” Ohmer shared his tricks of the trade with Erie Times-News in 2019.  

In summary: 

  • The right stone is key and the smoother the bottom, the better. 

  • Spin is your friend and that means a stone with no good edges to grip isn’t. 

  • Sometimes less is more, power being the enemy of consistency.

  • Posture is pivotal: Find a way to throw flat-footed and minimize your movement.

(Editor’s note: Methods vary. Steiner, for example, has a violent-looking windup reminiscent of Mets reliever Jeff Innis, so not very flat-footed at all.)

If those tips have you feeling ready to join the big leagues, entry fees for this year's PA Stone Skipping Championship in Franklin are $1 for youth, $5 for amateurs, and $10 for the pros. 

For more motivation, there’s an award-winning 2016 documentary about the sport called (what else?) Skips Stones for Fudge

It probably goes without saying, but the physics behind all of this, especially at the professional level, are astounding. Take Steiner’s 88-skips record, set on a lake in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest in 2013: It’s the upper limit, or maybe not.

Fluid dynamicist Tadd Truscott told Wired that the physics suggest hundreds of skips could be possible, at least in theory.

The outlet elaborates: “Someone with the power of a Major League Baseball pitcher could sidearm a stone as fast as 93 mph, with a spin rate upwards of 3,000 revolutions per minute. ‘And if you can get there, you're going to probably get close to 300, 350 skips,’ Truscott said.” 

If it’s going to happen, it might as well be at French Creek on Aug. 20.

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor

"I want to quit my job to become the world’s best stone-skimmer.”

World-record-breaker Kurt "Mountain Man" Steiner, of Emporium, relaying a conversation with his wife, as told to the Freakonomics podcast

Me waking up to another 90-degree forecast. Photo by @mar_sees_life. Have a cool Pennsylvania photo to share? Send us your pics by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

Jim Thorpe, namesake of the town in Carbon County, had his gold medal wins at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm fully restored by the International Olympic Committee last week.

Thorpe won both the decathlon and pentathlon events, becoming the first Native American to secure an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. 

But the medals were stripped when officials discovered he'd been paid as a minor-league baseball player, violating strict amateurism rules.

Sixty-nine years passed before the IOC granted him the title of co-champion for both events, but Thorpe's supporters weren't satisfied.

Last week, he was reinstated as the sole winner.

"We are so grateful this nearly 110-year-old injustice has finally been corrected, and there is no confusion about the most remarkable athlete in history," said Nedra Darling of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and Bright Path Strong, a group that advocated for the change.

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