By Robert Stoneback

The Daily Item

DANVILLE -- The Danville German Society's annual Elk Toss means different things to different people, but Johann Zerbe knows what he likes most.

"This is the only time of year I can wear lederhosen in public and get away with it," he said. "The free beer helps too."

Zerbe, of Bernsville, Berks County, was one of more than 100 people who came to Danville on Saturday to watch the competition, which is based on a German tradition. Contestants take turns seeing who can throw an elk -- in this case, one created out of burlap and wood -- the farthest.

"It's all about the angle of release," Zerbe said.

Another helpful factor?


"You need the right amount. ... If you have too much, you get dizzy during your spin," Zerbe said. "Too little, and you're not relaxed enough."

Most members of the crowd, whether watching or participating, were drinking cold brews when they weren't laughing or cheering on the throwers. Many were drinking from steins and, like Zerbe, wore their own lederhosen to the occasion.

"The Danville German Society was founded in order to have a good time" while also reviving Pennsylvania Dutch traditions, said Van Wagner, society co-president.

The society's celebrations started at 8 a.m. at Pappas Restaurant for the annual Scrapple-fest. Contestants were challenged to eat a serving of scrapple without using silverware, mimicking the traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The society and its visitors then went to the Jerseytown Tavern for a burger eat-off. A new record was set by a Baltimore attendee who ate a one-pound hamburger in two minutes, 20 seconds.

The festivities then moved to the Wagner farm at 11:30 a.m. in preparation for the elk toss. Before the main event, there were chicken races, beard contests, scrap iron tosses and a doe toss for the children.

Ethan Weader, 9, of Riverside, set a record with a doe toss of 30 feet.

Robert Bomboy, a founding member of the Danville German Society, said the scrap iron toss "was really one of the best I've ever seen, and I've been watching this for 75 years." The society's members say, usually with a wink and a nod, that this is their 75th annual Elk Toss, though Bomboy's copper red hair suggests he's not quite as old as he claims.

Wagner estimated that about 300 were at his farm throughout the day. While some were local, many visitors drove several hours, or even days, to participate.

Patrick Biondo, the 2010 Elk Toss champion, drove from his home in South Carolina.

"I'm tying to defend the title," he said. "I brought the trophy over 700 miles. ... I want to take that thing back to South Carolina."

Biondo first attended the Elk Toss last year with friends from Pennsylvania who were acquainted with the Danville German Society.

One of the farthest throws came from Matt Dodge, who drove to Danville from Norfolk, Va., where he is stationed in the Navy.

"I wouldn't miss this for the world," he said. "I take leave to make sure I can come here."

The winner of the contest was Wagner, with an elk toss of 48 feet. Biondo came in second. This was the first win for Wagner, despite several close calls in past years.

"I'm just proud to bring the trophy back to Danville where it belongs," Wagner said.

Visitors also were encouraged to bring items to donate for a charity auction that took place before and after the Elk Toss. Items such as T-shirts, ironing boards, an acoustic guitar, a flat-screen computer monitor and beer goggles were sold to the highest bidders with the proceeds given to local charities. The $5 entrance fee for the Elk Toss also was donated. Wagner said they raised about $3,000 this year.

Charities benefiting this year include Danville's Ronald McDonald House and Danville's Gate House shelter home. Since 2002, the society has donated more than $12,700 to charity.

"People have been so generous with their bidding," Wagner said. "It's outstanding."

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