Skillet toss brings the heat and a three-peat

Jane Bollin stays on fire with 53-foot, 4-inch winning throw.

The 22nd annual women’s skillet toss unfolded on Sunday at the Ag Fair under blue skies and a sizzling sun. In all, 81 contestants in four age categories toed the line to take two shots at heaving the 3-pound, 11-ounce, frying pan as far and as straight as they could. Each thrower enjoyed the rousing support of her fellow contestants and the exuberant crowd. 

The format for the contest calls for the four age-group winners to meet in a one-throw playoff. When the dust and temperature settled, Jane Bollin of East Sandwich had claimed her third grand champion title in a row with a final throw of 53 feet, 4 inches. 

Sunday’s pre-event atmosphere was one of bonhomie and keen anticipation as contestants mingled, sharing laughs and strategies. For three close friends and first-time skillet tossers, there was also some apprehension; Raquel Freeman of Connecticut, Melinda Agyekum of New York, and Raquel Dunn of Atlanta had heard about the event, and decided to give it a try.

“We thought it would be a fun thing to do as pals,” said Freeman. “We should have researched it more. Look at the size of this crowd. We’re nervous.”

Suzanne Greenwald of Westwood harbored no such doubts. “I’ve already made space on the mantle for my trophy,” she said with a wink, “and I’ve been talking smack with random Islanders. Joan is going down.”

Joan being Suzanne’s new friend, Joan Hooke of West Tisbury, who happily took the bait. “Suzanne is young and a tough competitor,” said the fourth-time entrant. “I’m a little scared.” 

Natalie Barmakian of Oak Bluffs was competing in her fourth event, and as the oldest contestant at age 90, earned the Silver Skillet Award and had the honor of throwing first. 

“I’m grateful to be here with two arms, two legs, and a little muscle,” she said. “I don’t have my usual strength because I recently stopped playing tennis. I’ll be back next year, God willing.”

This year’s contest provided spirited competition as well as a wide range of toss techniques. There was the standard underhand delivery, a backward two-handed over-the-head launch, a triple-hop-and-a-jump fling, a double-pump overhand heave, and a twirling discus delivery that sent nearby officials scrambling for safety.

The top six contestants in each age group received ribbons, with the coveted blue going to the winners. Pam Coblyn won the 65 and over group with a throw of 34 feet, 8 inches; Edgartown’s Martha Klein topped the 46-64 age group with a 48 foot, 5 inch toss; in the 30-45 group, Jane Bollin and Elizabeth Saypol of Stamford, Conn., tied with throws of  46 feet, 7 inches.

For Leila Gardner, winner of the 18-29 age group with a throw of 44 feet, the blue ribbon had very special meaning. Her mother, Jennifer Gardner, a former three-time skillet toss grand champion and record holder, died in January. “Mom loved this event,” said Leila. “This ribbon is for her.”

In the one-toss playoff to determine the grand champion, Jane Bollin came through with the longest throw of the day. “I didn’t expect to win again,” said a grinning Jane. “I did the tractor pull yesterday, and felt really tired.” Then, after a deep breath she flung her arms in the air. “YAY!” 

It was a cool way to end a hot day.