Iron Skillet Toss Competition
Among the country-fair staples of hog calling, log rolling, tractor pulling, and other rural feats, is the unique art of hurling a frying pan. Each July the Lamoille County Field Days in East Johnson, Vermont, hosts a “Ladies’ Underhanded Skillet Toss,” wherein females in six age divisions, from “Peewees” (7 and under) to “Young at Heart” (51 and over) compete to fling a 10-pound cast-iron frying pan across a field. Each contestant gets two chances, and winners in each division take home a blue ribbon and a miniature skillet trophy.
Last year, 76 women and girls took up the pan. “Yep, ladies, it’s heavier than it looks,” announced Field Days board member Jessica Chauvin to about 50 spectators seated safely away from the pitching lane. “This is a reinforced skillet made specially for this event. One year we couldn’t find the skillet, and we went through nine regular skillets.”
The only gentleman involved in the Skillet Toss was Shawn Sicard, Jessica’s boyfriend, a UPS driver, in dark glasses and ball cap with brim tucked close, as he diligently calculated the distance of each toss with a measuring wheel. He’d run it from the baseline out to where the jettisoned pan rested face down in the sod, and then report the distance via his handheld radio to Angel Prescott, an eight-time Skillet Toss champion, ensconced 30 yards away in the judges’ box. She’d duly note it down in her ledger.
“Is this some sort of therapy?” I asked Vicki, a first-time tosser.
“Is there anyone you imagine you’re throwing this at?” I inquired.
Vicki smiled and gripped the handle, swinging it back and forth, like a tennis player preparing to serve. But in the actual releasing action, it was more like bowling, as Vicki took that pan back one last time before sending it on its way. It landed 47 feet 9 inches distant.
Tracy Grunow Laporte, whose toss Shawn measured at 51 feet 1 inch, has been competing for more than a decade. She points to her 9-year-old son: “That’s Skillet Boy.” In July 2002, at nine months’ pregnant–and her contractions five minutes apart–she competed. Three hours after her toss, she gave birth to Forest in a nearby hospital.
Pearl and Lawrence Earle are responsible for bringing this pan-slinging revelry to East Johnson more than 15 years ago. They first saw the event at the Fryeburg Fair in Maine and thought, Gee, that looks like a lot of fun. So they returned to Vermont to “pitch it” to the Field Days board. At the time, the Earles’ son was working in a foundry, so he made a special frying pan with an unbreakable handle. Every summer since, females from 3 to 83 have taken a turn standing alone in a green field far from their kitchens, feeling the iron heft of that bacon-cooking, egg-scrambling pan, and hurling it with all their might into the blue July sky.