Remember the fable of stone soup? The innkeeper tells the travelers he can make a delicious soup from just a stone. And, by the way, he tells the travelers, if you could get some carrots and onions to put in the soup, it will be even better. He tells other visitors mushrooms and meat also complement the stone, and he tells additional visitors, the soup could use some noodles and spices.
Paul Finch’s near half-century tradition of a horseshoe tournament has been the stone.
The lifelong relationships and memories that have grown around the tournament have been the rich, hearty, fulfilling soup.
In 1978, a year into what would be a 21-year stint teaching industrial engineering at New Mexico State University, Finch and his wife, Judy, invited a few friends and some students to their house for a friendly backyard game of horseshoes.
In the intervening years, the game turned into a tournament, and hundreds of hundreds of guests came for the competition, but more for the camaraderie.
But when the host has the detailed mind of an engineering instructor, thoughts turn to measures and outcomes.
“He had to know the statistics,” said one of those former students, Wayne Savage. “Recording every throw, he could calculate each player’s handicap.” With those figures, Finch would draft tournament seedings to even out the competition.
This weekend will be the 44th and final edition of the Finch event, known as the Armijo Open because of the location of Finch’s house on Armijo Street. It will include horseshoes, of course, but also huachas and badminton, two other staples of the Armijo Open.
There will be something else. A throwback to the 1970s, and people like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.
A good old-fashioned roast.
More than 32 of Finch’s longtime friends and Armijo Open veterans have committed to attend the farewell event Saturday, Oct. 7. They’ll be coming from all over the country, and plenty are still here in Las Cruces. And they’ll all have plenty of stories, plenty of fuel for the roast.
“Paul turns 90 in October,” Savage said. “He wanted to go out on his own terms.”
Surrounding him will be a number of ladies who attended many of the events, taking statistics, helping out, performing skits and becoming like additional daughters to Finch.
A similar pattern was true of the male participants.
“I knew Paul like my second dad,” Savage said. “He’s played that role for a lot of folks.”
But Savage was the only one who wound up owning Finch’s house.
Savage had married Griselda Martinez in early 2019 and, that fall, at the tournament, Finch made an announcement, without Savage’s permission.
Finch said he and Judy were going to be moving out of the house.
“Brother Savage and his bride are going to be buying this house,” Finch said. “Under one condition: He keeps the tournament going.”
Savage and Martinez did buy the house, and spent a couple of years and a lot of sweat equity working on it, with an eye toward the tournament. Of course, in the fall of 2020, thanks to Covid, there was no tournament. But the last two years, Savage and Martinez did their best to carry on the tradition.
But no mistake, it’s Paul Finch’s event.
The horseshoes and the friendship have always been the focus, but that won’t be the case this year, as Finch’s friends – people who’ve become his family – will share the impact this man has made on their lives.
“He’s meant a lot to a lot of people,” Savage said.
There will be many times this weekend when players will put the horseshoe cleanly around the stake.
But when an old friend puts an arm around Paul Finch, and says what he’s meant all these years, that will be the real ringer.