Back in June, Eddie Oakes Jr. and Bob Demont were throwing horseshoes in Houston, practicing for the Senior Games national championships.

Demont, who lives in Cumberland, turned to Oakes and said it would be nice if one of them returned to Maine with a national championship.

Oakes didn’t miss a beat. “I said, ‘How about both of us?,’ ” said Oakes, who lives in Windham.

He was very prescient.

Both Oakes, 54, and Demont, 56, won national championships in horseshoes, Demont in the male 55-59 division, Oakes in the male 50-54 class. Now they will be among 18 competitors in the Maine Senior Games horseshoe tournament today at Deering Oaks in Portland.

“I guess I’m going to be a target for the other guys,” said Demont.

Beyond that, Demont and Oakes both hope their success leads to more horseshoe players — and competition — at home.

“It wouldn’t bother me to have more people playing,” said Oakes, a postal worker. “I enjoy the game, and having more people play it means having more people to play against.”

Horseshoes has been a part of both of their lives for a long time. Growing up in North Yarmouth, Demont spent hours playing with his father in the family’s backyard pit. Oakes started playing when he returned home after five years in the Marines. That was in 1982.

For them the game is a simple pleasure.

“For me it’s a connection I have with my dad, and it has a grounding effect for me,” said Demont, who travels a lot as a consultant to non-profits. “It’s a lot like golf (which he also plays). It’s a game of inches and it’s challenging. But for me, it’s a way of feeling grounded to Maine and my dad, who died in 1993.

“And people who play horseshoes are really down to earth. It’s a good change of pace for me from my professional life, where I deal with a lot of Type-A personalities.”

Oakes said he loves everything about the game, from its simple toss to its social atmosphere. “I like to be out in the sun. I love to be outside in the summer,” said Oakes. “I just enjoy the whole thing about the game.”

He especially loves a good throw.

“When you’re throwing well, as soon as it leaves your hand you know it’s a good shoe,” said Oakes. “And that’s the feeling you always want.”

He had that feeling in Houston enough to win a national title, though Oakes truly didn’t expect it.

“That was just luck,” he said. “I just happened to have the right game at the right time.”

Demont said his title also came as a complete surprise.

“I had a great time in Houston,” he said. “I met some nice people and I happened to finish the last two games with ringers.

“I really had no idea what to expect there. I guess that was part of my expectations, I just wanted to go down and have a good time.”

What surprised Demont most in Houston was the competitiveness of the athletes.

“We were watching badminton and those guys were beating each other up,” he said. “One guy, his leg cramped up on him at the end and they had to help him off the court. Horseshoes is more of a mental game.”

But it can be very competitive. Oakes started playing when he returned home to Portland after serving five years in the Marines. He joined some friends who took the game seriously.

“When I was growing up, we didn’t have a pit in our yard,” he said, “so we played when we went to camp. My dad was just happy to throw one in the pit. If one landed within point range, he was ecstatic. But these guys I started playing with, they weren’t happy unless they got a ringer. That’s when I really started to play.”

He’ll be joined at the Senior Games by his brother, John, who is 51. John Oakes also qualified for the nationals but didn’t go. They will compete in the same age division, and that’s all right with both of them.

“There’s been a rivalry between us in just about anything we’ve ever done,” said Eddie Oakes. “But it’s friendly.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH