Skillets filled the air late on Sunday afternoon as the 155th Agricultural Fair wrapped up four glorious August days of down-home fun and relaxation. The women’s skillet toss, celebrating its 19th birthday, had center stage, and over 500 fans stood, sat, or perched themselves on split-rail fences to take in the action.
One thing that always strikes you about the skillet toss is how intrepid these women are to go out there in front of a huge crowd — many of them friends or family — and risk embarrassment, injury, or both. Whereas many of both sexes choose to avoid the spotlight and the anxiety it provokes, these competitors do not.
And when we say “out there” we mean exactly that. When your name is called, you leave the safety of the sideline and walk about 70 feet, alone and in the glaring sun, into the center of the arena, where all eyes are upon you. You then take your position on the “foul line” and are handed the 3-pound, 11-ounce frying pan.
What’s going through your mind at this point? According to West Tilbury resident Sheila Rayyan, a longtime veteran of the event, one thought is particularly hard to shake: Will I drop it? For Sheila, such doubts are offset by her husband Omar’s encouragement, and the fact that she has tasted success in the past. “I won a ribbon once, maybe 10 years ago. It’s around the house somewhere,” she said.
Another contestant, Kerry Healy of Boston, also acknowledged her nerves. A first-time tosser, she had squeezed in a practice session or two — using an extra-heavy pan to strengthen her arm — but was still feeling a bit unsure. “I’m definitely nervous,” she said. “I want to impress my friends, who have hosted me this week.” The hosts in question responded with loud declarations of support and affection, eliciting a big smile from Kerry, former Massachusetts lieutenant governor. She already looked more confident.
Before the dust settled — and there was plenty of that over these four bone-dry days — 80 women would participate on Sunday, in four age categories. Joan Mancuso who, along with husband John, initiated the skillet toss in 1998, and is still the on-field official, provided some background. “The number of contestants has held pretty steady over recent years,” she said. “Some women get caught up in the Sunday excitement and decide at the last minute to join. It’s hard to say no to them.”
The format for the contest calls for the four age-group winners to meet in a playoff, one throw per person. After 164 skillet tosses, a new champion had emerged. Maggie Riseborough won her age group, then claimed the overall title with a toss of 60 feet, 5 inches.
As for Sheila and Kerry, neither was a prizewinner, but both performed admirably. Sheila reached 34 feet, 1 inch, on her second of two throws; Kerry came in at 26 feet, 7 inches, on her second attempt. So each improved, and each came away buoyant and injury-free. “I’m already looking forward to next year,” said Sheila.
Eighty women competed in the various divisions. Ms. Riseborough fell into the 18-to-29 category. She also won first place in her age group, with a throw of 55 feet, 11 inches. In the 30-to-45 category, Kara Shemeth took first place with a throw of 53 feet, 3 inches. Darcy Lee Hanaway was second with a toss of 40 foot, 8 inches, followed by Letta Neely at third place, with a throw that went 39 feet.
Women ages 46 to 64 were led in scoring by Karena Hammarlund, with a throw of 42 feet, 11 inches. Pamela Lomax was second with a throw of 40 feet, 1 inch. Charly Weiss came in third, throwing her skillet 38 feet, 5 inches.
Judy David led the women in the 65-plus age group, with a throw of 31 feet, 1 inch. Second place in that age range was Harriet Kantrowitz, throwing the skillet 30 feet, 3 inches. Gretchen Mayher followed in third place with a throw of 28 feet, 7 inches.
Overall champion of the 19th annual skillet throw at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair is Maggie Riseborough, with her winning toss of 60 feet, 5 inches.
Corrections: In an earlier version of this story, Gretchen Mayher was misidentified as a Mayhew, and Kara Shemeth did not toss a frying pan 57 feet, she tossed it 53 feet, 3 inches.