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Jousting Remains Alive and Well in Maryland - 2002-06-18

"I can't sleep knowing there's a tournament and I might not be going to it," says Sandy Izer, 45, of Williamsport, Maryland. Ms. Izer loves to joust. Unlike knights of old, though, she doesn't thunder across a field hoping to unhorse her opponent. Modern jousters gallop down a track through 3 wooden arches. Hanging from each arch is a small ring. Jousters try to spear those 3 rings with their lance. Ms. Izer says it's difficult and dangerous.

"First off," she advises, "those lances are pointed. They can kill, and most of them are 2 meters long. If you're ever in an accident or your horse stumbles, there's no place to go but over the top."

One thing hasn't changed in 700 years: there's still a lot of pageantry at a jousting tournament. Though competitors are dressed in comfortable riding clothes rather than a cumbersome suit of armor, each wears a colorful sash. The cloth symbolizes the medieval custom of a knight carrying a good luck handkerchief given to him by the lady he loves. The tournament field is decorated with bright flags. The ceremony is led by a costumed Grand Marshall sporting a large plumed hat. All riders - or knights and maidens - take on a medieval name. Sandy Izer is the Maid of Scarlet Rose.

"We always start off with a parade, the Star Spangled Banner and then the jousters prayer and sometimes we'll do a medieval reenactment," she said, "but it's all very traditional right down to the close of the tournament where they have the crowning ceremony where you crown and kiss the queen or whomever you choose to crown and kiss." There's a lot of work behind all the pageantry. Sandy Izer runs a large farm with a hundred head of cattle and six horses, two of which she trains for jousting. Ms. Izer says the sport requires a good eye, good concentration and a good horse. "It's a lot more difficult to get a horse to run in a straight line at a smooth hand gallop than people realize," she says, "Most horses want to veer off or lean, not concentrate on what they're doing. Most everybody here spends at least one full season on just getting their horse going good, and then they can start moving up a bit."

It is mostly the jousters' families and friends who gather to watch the tournaments. The prize money is modest, ranging from $25-100. Ms. Izer says she obviously doesn't joust for the money, but rather for the fun and comraderie of the sport. She says jousting is in her blood. "My father rode 30 years ago - jousting," she says proudly, "This is a real family sport. I came down with a father and son and mother today. "

Sandy Izer says she collects any newspaper articles she can find about jousting tournaments around the country, and plans to write a book on the subject one day.