A washer is a flat steel circle with a hole in the middle. It’s used to distribute the load of a nut threaded onto a bolt, to add stability or serve as a spacer.
Or, you can toss it at a hole.
Do that on July 22 at the Wise County Old Settlers Reunion, and you could win a little money, some bragging rights – and a spot in the Guinness World Records.
What started five years ago as a fun way to kill a little time and raise some money at Reunion has transformed into what promises to be the biggest event of its kind in the world – or at least the biggest one on record.
The “Put Yo Money Where Yo Mouth Is” washer tournament started five years ago when Carey Williams, executive manager at James Wood Motors in Decatur, then president of the Decatur Chamber of Commerce, was brainstorming for a way to raise money for the Chamber’s scholarship fund.
“I had the thought, ‘You know, washer pitching has always been a tradition of the Wise County Reunion,'” Williams said. “I thought this might be a terrific fundraiser – put together a little tournament, there might be some interest.”
So Williams built 10 sets of washer boards – 2-foot by 2-foot plywood boxes with one hole in the center and carpet on top. Competing in two-person teams, contestants toss four washers at a time at the hole from 21 feet away.
A washer in the hole gets you five points, and the washer closest to the hole gets another point. The first team to 21 wins the match.
That year, the turnout was bigger than Williams expected, with 63 teams.
Luckily, Williams had a bracket guy – Kennan Keffer of Denton – who he’d gotten to know through pool tournaments. He came over and made sure everything proceeded smoothly.
The next year, the tournament was even more popular, with 81 teams signing up. Williams made another 10 sets of boards for the third year, and the tournament attracted 85 teams. Last year there were 88.
Then he got another idea.
“I was up here closing one night, and we have a Guinness book of world records sitting there,” he said. “So I picked it up and started reading, and I thought, ‘Man, we might be having the largest washer-pitching contest in the world, and I don’t even know it.'”
As it turned out, he was close.
Williams searched the Internet and found a guy in Minnesota who claimed to have the largest tournament in the world – with 110 teams.
“It said right there on his website that he didn’t have anything to back that up,” Williams said. “He’d never been to Guinness or anything.”
So Williams got in touch with the folks at Guinness – not an easy task – and eventually got back an email with six attachments specifying what needs to be done to achieve a listing.
“Honestly, I just thought they’d send back a deal and say you’ve been approved and have a little list of stuff we have to do,” he said. “But they take it pretty serious when you start talking about a world record.”
So this year, as washers sail through the air, Williams, his wife Amanda and a team of volunteers will be jumping through hoops to make sure the tournament qualifies for the book. They’re looking for at least 125 teams.
“I don’t have any worry about us getting there,” Carey said. “We’ll do that. My biggest worry is how much over that we’ll go.”
There are a lot of details to attend to. Williams has already built more sets of washer-boards so that 50 games can be going on at once. The tournament will take up the entire area around the pavilion with everything videoed from towers and witnessed by “stewards,” who verify the event for Guinness.
Participants are strongly encouraged to register online at wisecountywashers.com where they can pay the $50-per-team entry fee in advance. Registration and check-in will open at 4 p.m. and close at 6:30 the day of the tournament.
“Every person has to check in during that period,” Amanda said. “They get a wristband, then we shoot an individual photo. There’s a group photo at 7 of all the people who have entered. All this has to be submitted back to Guinness to officially set the record.”
They’ve even set aside a parking area just for the media.
“It’s a way bigger deal than I thought,” Carey said.
But he believes the goal – getting Wise County’s Old Settlers Reunion into the book as a world record – is worth the hassle.
“I don’t know of Wise County ever doing anything to set a world record,” he said. “I just think it’ll be cool to do. Everybody can be a part of it.”
That’s true – there’s no age limit, no distinction between men or women’s teams, and the only qualification is you have to be able to toss a washer 21 feet.
And, of course, have $50.
Proceeds go to the Chamber’s scholarship fund, and winners get cash prizes – $100 each for first, $50 for second and $25 for third.
“It’s all about bragging rights, and boy, is it competitive,” Williams said. “I’ve had people call and get the dimensions – ‘Where’d you buy your wood?’ ‘What kind of paint did you put on the washers?’ ‘Where’d you get the carpet?’ ‘What grade carpet?’ They ask all kinds of questions. They really take it serious.”
So on July 22 – Tuesday of Reunion week – thousands of washers will fly through the air, thumping onto the tops of boxes, fluttering off into the surrounding dirt or blissfully sailing through that hole.
And the braggin’ rights will go worldwide.