DONGAN HILLS — Forget the Olympics. The sporting event drawing Staten Island crowds this summer is a late night horseshoe tossing tournament held behind a Dongan Hills restaurant.
The contest is drawing fans to Toto's restaurant every Wednesday and Thursday. The fans cram into a floodlit court set up in the eatery's back yard and cheer on the island's finest pitchers.
The restaurant hosts the games as part of a summer league, said John Toto, one of the restaurant owners.
"It's just two great nights," said John Toto, who owns the restaurant on Father Cappadano Blvd. with his brother Joe.
"People have a good time."
The tournament started nearly 20 years ago when Toto turned extra parking spaces into a play area for the game.
But he had no idea how much of a following the league would get.
The first season, 10 teams turned up. The number kept growing.
This year, 24 teams of five to eight members are pitching it out to be the island's best.
Toto said, besides playing the game, the league became so popular because people want a night out on a weekday.
"Most teams make a night out of it," he said. "It's a social gathering."
Newcomer Tom Rigney, 30, of West Brighton, joined this year when a co-worker at Con Edison asked him to join his team.
"It's something to do during the week," Rigney said. "It's an excuse to be out during the week."
Paddy Rizzo, 41, of Old Town, joined the league 15 years ago when his father brought him on as a teammate. He said the games give him a chance to catch up with the friends he's made in the league over the years.
"I've known these guys for years," he said. "I don't see them for the whole off season, and it's just good to see everybody.
"It's just a good neighborhood bar and fun time playing horseshoes," Rizzo said.
At the start of the season in May, each team pays $100, which goes toward prize money for the winners at the end of the four week playoffs in September, Toto said.
The teams compete to toss a U-shaped metal bar across a 40 court pitch with stakes on each side.
Players score points if the horseshoe lands around the target, called a ringer, or near to the stake.
"The old timers can still be competitive without hurting themselves," said Toto, who himself plays in a team.
"Everybody competes on the same playing field."
Toto said that Thursday's generally have the larger crowd, but on a recent Wednesday night dozens of spectators and players crowded around the fence or on the bar's outdoor deck for the games.
The league is currently full, but interested players can be put on a waiting list to start a team if any drop out, Toto said.
But don't expect to take Rigney's spot.
The rookie, who had never played the game before this season, said he picked up the sport quickly and expects to continue to play next year — though some are trying to lure him from his current team.
"I'm a natural," he said.
"Guys are asking me to be on their team. I'm that guy."