Bob Theide was an icon and motivator for darts, specifically English Darts, in the North East part of America through the Seventies and eighties. A tragic collision with a train shortened his reign, but he continued playing. His story, told by him, may be found under “Legions Speak to us.”
Archive for the ‘ Legends speak to us ’ Category
Daniel (Danny) Valletto
Career base: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1976, Schlitz National Doubles Championship (Memphis, TN): 1st with partner Ray Fischer;
1978, Pentathlon Champion, East coast;
1984, Masters Champion (trip to England)
1985, Profile of the only year I really put in time with English darts.
New York Open: Open singles, 2nd, Cricket singles 2nd, Cricket doubles – 1st;
US Open: Open singles – 1st, Cricket doubles – 1st, 501 doubles – 3rd;
San Diego St. Patrick’s : Open singles – 3rd
Washington DC Open: Open singles – 1st, Mixed triples – 2nd, 4 man team – 2nd;
Northern Illinois Open: Cricket doubles – 2nd, 4 man team – 2nd;
Philadelphia Open (Schmidt’s): Open singles – 1st;
Dallas Open: mixed triples – 1st;
Jack & Jill (Holyoke Ma.): Open doubles – 2nd, Cricket doubles – 2nd;
Columbus Ohio: Invitational Singles – 1st, Open singles -3rd, Cricket doubles – 1st, mixed doubles – 2nd;
Jersey City NJ regional all star: Open singles – 1st;
W. Palm Beach Fl.: Open singles – 1st, Cricket singles – 1st, 4 man team – 1st, Open doubles – 2nd;
Phoenix AR: Open singles – 1st, Cricket doubles – 1st;
Springfield MA All star area finalist: Open singles – 1st;
Peach tree Open (Atlanta GA.): Cricket doubles – 2nd, Cricket mixed triples – 2nd;
North American Open (Las Vegas): Cricket doubles – 1st.
Other than 1985: Singles wins by place:
Phoenix, Minnesota, Columbus Ohio, Atlanta Ga., Washington DC, Baltimore Md., Virginia Beach Va., Philadelphia Pa., New Jersey, New York.
“I started with American darts after I got out of the service, about 1959 or 1960, I think it was. Before that I played a little pool and hustled some on shuffle board. One night I picked up the darts in a place and just threw them, and a friend asked me if I wanted to play on a team. I said yes and that was the start of it. In the first year they started me then the first thing you know I was the anchor on their team and I had a 42 average the first year I ever played darts. That how I started my career shooting darts and each year I set a goal of picking up two points in my average, and that’s what I did. I went from 42 to 44 to 46 to 48 up to 52. The year I averaged 46 I had a league high four game series of 57, 59, 61, 63 for an average of 60. My highest average was 52.9 across 118 games.
I bent my knees and dipped as I pulled the dart back and straightened up when I shot the dart forward and it was all part of the rhythm of my stroke. Early I did a lot of practice. I’d come in from work and play four nine inning games on my board. I did this every day, and played league darts on Tuesday night and go out and hustle a little on the weekend. I did that until 1969 when I went on the police force and started working shift work, then I cut back on my darts. I was a group player where you tried to put the first dart in a double or triple and lay the other two on them in a group where they all touched, that was called “feathers.” Which is great in American darts but in English darts it could hurt you when you tried to double out, you know? In American darts grouping would keep you scoring six or seven and the triple picking type of player would go for the triple and pick one or two or miss trying for triples only. In English darts when you’re playing for a double you have to be somewhat of a picker but in score you could group your darts for higher scores.
I had a bad accident and hurt my back in 1970 and it seemed like that would be the end of my dart career and after I hurt my back I didn’t practice anymore, I relied on the previous years of practice. But, it so happened that there was a state championship being played upstate for five man teams and I was asked to play in it with Eddie Hall, Dick Yost, not sure if it was Dale Melvin, and Charlie Young. Here Charlie had sent his cousin down from upstate to pick me up and I wasn’t playing because of my back and nerve damage in both legs. They were weak. I did go upstate, being half crippled, and we won the tournament in Glen Lyon Pennsylvania. The top upstate players were John Bobbie, Cam Melciore, Pete Polinski and Lee Breadbenner. In 1968, 1969, John Bobbie impressed me as the best dart player I’ve ever seen, bar none.
Dick Yost, who was the about the best in the city around 1963, grabbed me to play when I was averaging about 45 or 46 and worked on me. You know, come on kid and whatever, and my game would go right off, this is the way he worked on guys. It was a good learning experience though. Of course the day did come when Dick wouldn’t have anything to do with me on the dart board. It was kind of comical because some of the guys brought Lenny Craig, from over in Jersey after me too. We were playing back and forth and not all that well and this Ernie Kline jumped in the game. Well it turned out me and Lenny started coming on and Ernie lost all his money. Me and Lenny pretty much broke out even and that’s when the friendship started.
Little Al, Al Lippman, and I played and we played back and forth until we didn’t want to play each other anymore. He was a pick triple shooter and I was a group shooter. Al would usually win triple games and I would win score games. We were close friends and he was at the top of his game and I guess I was at the top of my game so we started looking for partner games, which we couldn’t get in the city so we started going all over the place looking for games. We went to New Jersey too, but little Al was recognized right from the get go and that was the end of that. It was pretty hard to go anywhere without being recognized.
Then another time around 1971, Joe Pachenelli and Ray Fisher got me to go up state with them to play in the Pennsylvania three man team state tournament, and we beat Pete Polinsky, his nickname is Primrose Pete, Cam Melciore and John Bobbie and I thought that was a great thing because up there you had to toe a 7′ 3″ line, and play with a Decco dart. The line in the city the line was 7’1″ and we used Widdy darts. I think in Jersey they heeled a 7’3″ line or something like that. Playing that line helped me transition into the English game, and it helped the upstaters also.
1970 While I was out of work on disability, with my bad back, I didn’t think it was right to go out playing darts, and it really bothered me to try to play. I wore a mustache for a while to be a little incognito, which didn’t work. That’s when Charlie Young got hold of some literature about a dart tournament in California where they’d pay you money, I didn’t go because of my accident, but that was the start of English darts in the area. I did go to the New York open in 1971 or 1972. That was the first I got involved in English darts. I got my bar in 1972 but was working too much to play darts although I had four or five boards up. Being known in Philadelphia and my friends being top shooters, that became the bar for dart shooters. I’d come out and play for a while, then lay low for a while with my back. The year after Al Lippman won his first US Open I went and it got down to me and Al in the finals. Al had been to England and wanted to go again and I didn’t want to go to because I was tied up operating my tavern, so, Al won again.
After my back problems, when I wasn’t going out to play very much, and not practicing, when I did go to a tournament I got to trying to hard because I didn’t have the confidence. Then, when I went up to Boston, around 1974, ’75 for a tournament and I’m playing for a double, with Tex Blackwood yelling “he won’t miss, he won’t miss,” I couldn’t let go of the dart. I couldn’t shoot it, and that was the start of the “Yips” for me. Yips will take away 50% of your ability, and I ended up with a case of dartitise, or the Yips for a few years. It’s like you’re leaning forward but you can’t let go of the dart and you’re going to fall on your face. I got to the point where I had to swing my arm around to even be able to throw. I believe it was because I wasn’t playing enough and had put too much stress on myself when I did show up. What I did was stop completely for about six months, then I tried again, and once in while I would get the Yips and other times not. I played against Ray Fisher out in California in the finals, the year he won the North American Open, and I had the Yips against him. I tried the best I could but it was very hard. I was playing against Bob Theide over in a tournament in Jersey and he got really upset because I had the Yips.
Conrad Daniels asked me to play with him in a match against Pete Polinski and Cam Melchiore, upstate, which Bob McLoed came in to officiate. We won that match. I saw a phsycologist about the yips but it didn’t help. I stayed away from darts long enough for the “Yips” to go away but other people, like Eric Bristow from England didn’t, I don’t think, and they stayed with him. He was the greatest English dart player I’d ever seen yet in the end the Yips just killed him.
In late 1972 and in 1973 I was working in my tavern from seven in the morning until four in the morning. There wasn’t any time for darts then, but later on I got some help and I could play again. I wouldn’t put up an American board in my place because I didn’t want anyone coming in to challenge me while I was trying to work. There were some people come in and challenge me and I would get upset because I couldn’t take them on. What I did was tell them I’d play for some horrendous amount of money in a couple of weeks because if somebody took me up on it I’d be able to practice for a couple of weeks, but it never came through, they never went along with it. I put up an English board and posters about tournaments around the country so some guys would try it because they could win some money. I really didn’t play much around my own bar. I’d go to tournaments occasionally but didn’t play there because they were all my friends and you don’t hustle your friends. And I had the Yips at that time too. Me and Charlie Cressman, from Quakertown would have matches once in a while. Sometimes he would win, sometimes I would. I’d played against his father in Upstate American darts. The only times I would get involved is when somebody would come in and hustle one of my customers then I’d get in a match with them at a later date.
In 1984 or 1985, sometime in there Conrad Daniels set up a match between me and Rick Ney, who at the time was one of the best in the country with the potential of being the strongest in the world. He was easily handling Conrad and different ones in the area at the time, and I was down the shore with my motel business. I went up to Washington to a tournament and didn’t do well at all, got knocked out early. Rick had got on Conrad because he wanted a match, but Conrad said he didn’t think he could beat Rick, but that I could so without even asking me they announced at the Washington Open that there was going to be a match between me and Rick in Conrad’s bar over in Trenton NJ. I said I wished somebody would have asked me if I was willing to do it, you know? But what happened was, I showed up for the match a couple of weeks later, or whenever it was, in shorts since it was summer time and Rick was all hyped up and was telling me I wasn’t going to be able to quit in the middle of playing, since I was older and might not be able to last for the whole match. We were playing the first to win 26 501 games. So, it was a lot of fun, it was for around $10,000 I was told. Various one from Philadelphia and others from upstate put up the money. It was either 26 to 18 or 26 to 16, I defeated Rick and he was so stunned he almost got into fisticuffs. And after that match I got very close with Rick, he and his family used to come down and stay at my motel, but it bothered me over the years because I felt I’d really hurt one of the greatest American and English dart players and maybe one of the top world players. We’re very close, even to this day, but that’s always bothered me. What happened was, at the peak of his career where he seemed to be undefeatable, even against Eric Bristow, I showed up and he must have taken me too lightly, and his dominance of the game was no more.
A few guys pulled tricks. It was like Norm Findley, sometimes he would stand close to a player and blow cigar smoke at him, as he was getting ready to play. I didn’t use mind games, Dick Yost was a great one for that, he would make you not play your game, too, I didn’t see much of that at tournaments.
Little Al and me played the English game with American darts to start with, then Tex Blackwood gave me one of his many sets which were a set of tungsten darts with little rubber flights on them. I used them until the dart broke and I couldn’t find another set like that. Then I got a set of Unicorn darts. I have a set of darts now that were given to me years ago. I don’t change darts and even flights I don’t change much. The type of dart doesn’t make any difference. Right now I think if I got a set of American darts in my hand I could outplay 80% of the players in English darts but not the top 10% or 20%, even though I haven’t touched a set of darts in the last three years. The last time I played was in the Ray Chesney tournament in Philly and I lost a tough match, 1 to 2, against Ray Carver who, I believe, is one of the top players today. I wasn’t aware of him from not actually playing in the last few years.
In 1984, I think just after I won the Masters, Unicorn asked me if I wanted a sponsor. I think it was because I was using their darts. They wanted me to attend, it was either 12 or 16 tournaments, I just forget how many. I was a single oh player from the sponsor, so I picked up Dave Kelly, from Boston, for a partner. At that time of my life, to be forced to go somewhere when I didn’t want to was tough. When I was in my 20s it was different. Come to think of it, having my air fare and hotel paid for might have had a lot to do with how much I played and won in 1985 and 1986. Whether I wanted to go or not I had the sponsor and had to go, so it was a fun year. I played with Dave Kelly for a partner, who was a great player I first met up in Boston when he was only 21.
I wasn’t into it that much before 1985. I’d play, then not go to any tournaments and when I did show up nobody knew how I was going to play because they hadn’t seen me play in a while. I was a disappearing act. When they had the Champion of Philadelphia tournaments, which were open only to Philadelphia players, I didn’t want to play in it because the other players were my buddies and I thought it was for them so I didn’t want to get in it and ruin it for them. I thought I was a level above most of the players, but that was from American darts because I had the highest average and I’d win high average, high single, high everything, so when the Champion of Philadelphia tournaments started I wouldn’t play, I thought it was for the other guys to have a chance to win. I did get in it the second year and ended up winning it, then the following year when they had it again it was double elimination and I got in the finals with Dave German without a loss, so he had to beat me twice to win. We get down to our match and a I heard some of my friends from Philadelphia cheering for Dave and that upset me so much that I just wasn’t going to make a double. I’d get down to a double a couple of hundred points before him but I just wasn’t going to make a double. He ended up beating me and I never attended another Philadelphia Champion event. The crowd never bothered me any where I played, even in England when the guys from Scotland were dropping their pants, but that time my feelings were really hurt.
There was another time I gave a game up, after not playing for a couple of years. I was playing in Long Island against my partner, Jamie Jordan, who won a New York Open doubles with me, and I wanted him to go on and win a singles event, if he could. Which he never did. I got down to 40 left way ahead of him, but the only way I was going to take the win was with two double tens instead of a double 20. Rudy Hernandez, a top New York player was watching our match and he couldn’t figure out what I was doing. I took several turns at it but kept busting. Finally I lost. Jamie never said anything and lost in the next match. I did go on to win the Cricket singles event against John Part from Canada.
I didn’t do anything special to get ready to go to a tournament. When I got there I’d throw to get in my rhythm but that was about it. If I didn’t get any rhythm I didn’t do any good, I’d be in and out. Sometimes, if I could hang in long enough and my rhythm would come in, then everything would turn out fine.
I preferred to play longer scoring games because the weakest part of my game was the double so if I could get a couple of hundred point lead I’d be OK.
I went to England a few times, the first time was the Pentathlon, they had one on the west coast and one on the east coast and I won the east coast and got to go over. I took Bill Saver with me because I didn’t like to travel alone. That was in 1977 or 1978.
There are pros and semi pros in darts where the pros are the very top players and the semi pros are the ones right below them. And all of them in the top 10%.
I guess my best experiences was when I beat Jocky Wilson one set in the masters in England. It was best of three sets each set the best of five games, and I took a 135 out with a triple 20 then a single and double bull, while winning the first set. He came back to win the next two sets. Then another time was when I beat Eric Bristow with a 170 out in one game at the Pentathlon.
I was an emotional person. I would always go with the underdog and would partner with them to help them. If a friend of mine got hustled I’d make a match and get it back for them, that was the kind of guy I was.
There was a tournament in New York where they brought over 40 of their best players and afterward Ray Fischer played Alan Evans for money. The British asked for a match and we said Theide was too good for Alan, and I had just beaten Alan in the tournament so I didn’t need to play him again, but Ray had been knocked out of the tournament early, so Alan could play him. They played and Ray beat him for a good deal of money. The Brits weren’t happy since in the tournament two Americans were first and second, George Silberzahn won and I came in second, then Ray beat Alan.
I would usually pick a partner that I thought I could help. There was Ray Davidson, from Philly, and it was like, who could he get to put him up in the national spotlight? So I felt, OK I’ll take him as a partner in Washington DC and we ended up in the finals against Jerry Umberger and Rick Nye in the finals of the oh one. We won. Well now Ray Davidson, you’re here, then he eventually went on to win a US Open tournament. I liked Dave Kelly, who I played partners with in 1985 and 1986, because he would psych me up. He’d tell me I need you, I need your darts and then I’d go. We did very well together, yea we had a very good relationship. I loved Ray Fisher as a partner and Frank Ennis as a great friend but only played with Frank one or two times as he was tied up in a sponsorship with Joe Baltadonis, from Mt. Royal New Jersey. I do wish I could have played more often with Frank as he was a great American and English dart shooter. He could easily pick doubles in English darts, which as I previously said was my weakness.
Then there was another tournament in New York where I got my loss back from George Silberzahn and beat him in the finals of the Rums of Puerto Rico New York Open.
Over the years I did find out the lack of preparation hurt me. Other than 1985, that was one year that I did put time in the game and I did start practicing. Then there was drinking, you would drink too much and suddenly that got a hold of you and there goes your game too. At tournaments it seemed like you’d need few to relax yourself, even though when I played American darts I never drank until after. At English darts tournaments, with not practicing, the drinks seem to relax you a little more so I felt I didn’t have to practice, but there were many times I’d get on a hot streak and then the alcohol would get a hold of it and that would be the end of it. In Las Vegas, in 1982 or 1983, I knocked off Jocky Wilson, who just won the world championship, two in a row with seven and eight dart 301 games and got in the finals against Nicki Virachkul. We had to wait several hours until the finals and I didn’t take care with the drinking so I had trouble picking doubles and lost. We’d made arrangements prior to playing to split the money anyway so that didn’t matter. But anyway, in many tournaments over the years the partying and late hours affected the result.
1984 I had just won the Masters tournament to go to England, and the publicity bit didn’t bother me anymore so I thought I’d put a little time in. I got a sponsor, General Sportscraft Unicorn and I went on a little spree of playing steady in 1985 and won in Minnesota, West Palm beach, Atlanta Georgia, Phoenix, Washington Open, New York Open and a lot of other places. It seems like that year and the beginning of 1986 I was hot as anything. When I didn’t let the alcohol get the best of me I was pretty much winning every tournament I got involved in. I got involved with the World Cup in Australia that year. Myself, Rick Nye, Tony Payne, and John Kramer, we had to play the English and we defeated the English 8 to 0 and got the gold metal. I played doubles with Rick Nye and let him down against John Lowe and Eric Bristow, who went on to win. If I’d have played just a little better we would have won because Rick was at the top of his game.
In 1986, what with not playing much and living down the shore, except for going to a few tournaments, and I got tired of the tournaments, I wanted to spend more time with my family. Winning all those times didn’t have anything to do with it. My interests in life were changing so I gave up my sponsorship and retired – again – for about the fifth time. I had just started wearing glasses my thumb hit them when I pulled the dart back and that interfered with my game and timing with my rhythm.
The time came, like when I went to England when I was 50, and I wished it could have been when I was 20 or 30. I’d lost some of the adrenaline, some of the drive. In 1985 I picked it up some but as fast as I picked it up I lost it again. Once you loose the adrenaline it’s gone. I found on Sunday at tournaments I’d be thinking about going home instead of going on and winning, and I wonder if that affected how I played. But I did show up in 1989 in US Open and won it for the second time. Came out of nowhere and beat Ray Davidson. Then I went to Atlantic City Jamie Jordan in 1990 or ’91, and Friday night I didn’t feel good, so I took a couple of aspirin and a bottle of Pepto bismal and it eased off. The doctors told me the aspirin probably open the clot and let the blood through. I played the rest of the weekend, and did fairly well. I went to the hospital and had angioplasty from a heart attack. I’ve had irregular heart beat too and I thought that showing up every couple of years for a tournament might not be a good idea. The extra stress from not being prepared and all wasn’t good. I did show up one last time in Atlantic City because Brian Dougherty, from Philadelphia called me and asked if I would be his partner, so I did. It was a shame for me and Brian because I didn’t play so well, especially in the doubles, and we didn’t play very well together. Brian played a great game against Taylor, from England and beat him in the singles. That would be the last time I played other than the Ray Chesney in Philly in 2000. I didn’t play on Sunday because I didn’t feel well. When I returned home I ended up in the hospital with irregular heartbeat.
So I got into golf, which to me is a more relaxing game and later on in golf, who knows maybe I’ll end up getting in the senior league and play against Arnie Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or Wes Keys. Wes Keys? Who is Wes Keys? Just another good American dart shooter out of Philly who was strictly a hustler and not just in darts, but also golf too, in the 1960s.”
Interviewed Sept. 2003
Passed away 2008
Gerald (Jerry) Umberger
Career base: Pottsville Pa (50 miles NW Philadelphia Pa.)
1979 – 81- 83- 85- 89- 91, World Cup Team.
1982- 83- 84, Nations Cup Team, Royal Hawaiian International Champion.
1983, Lucky Strike Triple Crown of Darts (Highest single prize $15,000)
1988, East Coast Championships Singles Champion.
1989 Cleveland Rock & Roll Singles Champion;
Rochester Genny Light Open Singles Champion;
Lake Erie Classic Singles Champion.
1990, Sarasota Gulf Coast Classic Singles Champion;
Blue Bonnet Classic Singles Champion;
New York Open Singles Champion;
Cincinnati Spring Fling Singles Champion;
Cleveland Rock and Roll Singles Champion.
1992, Cleveland Rock and Roll Open Singles Champion;
Fire Cracker Open Singles Champion;
Syracuse Open Singles Champion;
Wolverine Classic Singles Champion.
1993 Arachnid Plastic Player of USA;
Virginia Beach Classic Singles Champion;
Long Island Lady Liberty Cricket & 501 Singles Champion.
1994, New England Darts Challenge #15 Singles Champion;
Samson Dart Classic (England) 2nd place;
Lake Erie Classic Singles Champion;
#1 Arachnid Plastic Player (USA);
Virginia Beach Classic Singles Champion;
Long Island Lady Liberty Cricket & 501 Singles Champion.
1995, Va. Beach Classic Cricket & 501 Singles Champion;
Cleveland Extravaganza Singles Champion;
New England Darts Challenge #16 Singles Champion.
1998, Snow Blind Cricket Singles Championship.
1999, National Singles Champion, North American Open
“I started English darts when Steve Farcus, of the Spider magazine, came to Pottsville looking for good dart players to interview and play against. This was American darts. I guess he wanted to learn about them. He was in Philadelphia and someone told him, whatever you do don’t come to Pottsville because there are a lot of really good players up here. Well he did and stopped down at the Firehouse where I played and they called me. I thought it was a joke, or something stupid you know, so my dad went over, then calls up and said I’d better get over there because there was some guy over there that had darts that come apart. So I went over and he asked me to throw the darts at the American board and he couldn’t believe how good I could throw those darts without ever throwing them before. Well, then I didn’t know you had to have your own darts and that’s all you can throw. Then I was told you had to drink to play, you know? Guys would ask me how I could play so well without drinking. After I started going to tournaments that just came with it, you know? I don’t know if that was a good thing, because I’ve won a couple of good singles tournaments without drinking, ‘course I won a tournament with a cast on my foot too so if your going to win you’re going to win, no matter what you’re going to get lucky and win. There’s a lot of luck in it, you know, like there’s times when I’d be playing somebody and I’d miss a double and he’d miss then I’d take it out. He could have hit it, then I would have lost. I think it’s luck when somebody misses and you get a chance to win. I know out in Cleveland a few years ago they had three singles, like 501 then Cricket, then 501, and I won all three, first time it had ever been done, but I was lucky there too, you know? In the third one I was tired. I played some young guy and he had me beat but didn’t go out so I ended up winning, but I should have lost in the first or second round, I think it was. In every tournament there’s one game, or one match, where you can be beat, but get a break. I’ve done it all, I’ve lost to about everyone. I lost in St. Louis to a girl in the first round, and out in Kansas I lost to a young kid about 16, I guess. I didn’t want to kill him so when I’d hit a triple 20 I’d throw a couple of singles, then when I got down I couldn’t hit the double, and he won. I guess you could say I’m an equal opportunity loser.
When I started, over at the Firehouse where my dad played, I was so small I had to use a chair to pull the darts out of the board. My dad says him and my two brothers used to knock hell out of me until I got to be around 14 or 15, then we couldn’t beat him anymore. So I played until I could beat my dad and brothers then I went looking in other places and played until I could beat guys there, then I kept moving and looking for better players, you know? I started playing in a league when I was 18, in an in – house league. My first year I averaged around thirty eight I guess, then the last two years I played I averaged 50 or better. Then I started playing English darts and the average dropped down to 49, then 48 and I quit. The transition from the American darts to English wasn’t very difficult for me because up here we stood behind the line which put us closer to the English distance than the Philly players because they heeled the line and that put them foot closer. I played Bob Theide over in New Jersey in a money match and I had to tell him, either he moved behind the line or I couldn’t play him. That was too much to spot him.
The way I started playing English darts was there was a benefit for Bob Theide in Philadelphia and I knew Bob from American darts so I went to support that. I went to Danny Valletto’s bar so I could learn a little about the game before I got in the tournament. After that there was a tournament up in Connecticut and I got in the finals but I didn’t know what I was doing with out shots and lost to Frank Ennis, who was probably one on the finest players in the country. I tried to turn 56 into 32 by hitting the double 12 for 24. Well I hit it on my third dart and Frank went out.
I don’t remember what I did as far as practice, but I didn’t practice for anymore than an hour. After I got to about 22 years old I didn’t practice any more. I hung an English dart board in my cellar, but I never practiced. I spent some time getting used to the change of distance from American to English but there wasn’t any routine or anything. Funny, when I came in second over in England they interviewed me and when I told them I practiced for an hour or so after I got there, the British pros told me never to say that. Tell them you practice for hours every day. One thing I’ll tell people about darts is don’t do what I did, do what I say: practice. I was never ready for a tournament and if I had it to do over I would have been. I won, but if I’d practiced I could have won more.
Every time a good player comes along there is something different about them from regular players and you can see it, but I don’t what it is. Conrad Daniels had one of the best minds I’ve seen in darts. He had the ability to lock in when he was playing. He was playing in one of those national cup things and had 60 left, so he was shooting for a single 20, you know? He hit the double 5, and the expression on his face never changed. He just drew the next dart back and hit the double bull for the win. I could have been a lot better if I could have been the way Conrad handles his mind. When I did something like that I’d get mad and rather than just shoot I’d be thinking about how did I do that. I’d have shot for the bulls eye but I don’t know if I’d have come close to it. I think everybody is thinking a lot when they’re on the line, planning the shot and where to play the next dart if that one misses. Then, when you’re playing bad you start thinking about that and not concentrating on the shot. The best description of concentration I’ve ever heard came from a baseball player, “the ability to think of nothing.” When you’re playing good you don’t think of anything, you just shoot and shoot.
Maybe one of the things about me is that I have very little motion when I shoot. I don’t move my arm much and don’t move my body at all. I only draw it back 8 to 10 inches before I shoot it, just a short stroke. If you want to shoot a 180 you have to do the same thing three times in a row, so the less you have to do the better.
When I started playing English I started with Apex American darts. I cut the feathers down so I could shoot them the added distance and height. I got my first set of English darts when Al Lippman gave me a card for Accudart and I sent away for them, they were about 18 to 20 gram, but as I played I moved up in weight until I got to around 24 gram. I had a lot of bounce outs when I started, until I used the no bounce out kind of dart with the loose point. I’ll recommend them to everyone. I shoot them off my thumb, instead of my fingers, and they spin in the opposite direction of everybody else but I don’t think it makes any difference.
The dart barrel don’t really matter except I like the front a little thicker because when they drill out for the loose point it makes the front lighter and so I like the thicker ones because that makes up for the drilling. The dart you use really doesn’t make much difference.
I think the shaft and flight is what controls the dart. I can take anybody’s dart and put shafts on them and cut down the flight so they’ll be OK. I can trim the flight until it does what I need. I started the “coal cracker” kind of flight because I cut my flights down so they’d go right. I was in England and they wanted me to play in this place so I borrowed somebody’s darts and asked for a pair of scissors to trim down the flights then went ahead and used them.
It’s harder playing in tournaments than it is for money. You can lose a few games playing for money and come back, but in tournaments it’s best of three all the time and that’s hard.
Playing tournaments or money matches I always let the other player beat me. A consistent game will win over the distance. It’s a lot harder playing best of three because you can loose right away where playing for money you can lose a few and still come back. You get programed into the best of three games and then it doesn’t matter. In 1994 I came in second in Samson Dart Classic, in England, after playing Dave Kelly, Dennis Prestly, Cliff Lazarenko who was 6th or 7th in world at the time, then I played Phil Taylor who was a true number one in the world, then Peter Emerson in the finals. I messed up on two games, one game I was on 32 and missed the double, then another one I missed a single trying set up my out shot and that lost it for me. I played four matches that day and didn’t take advantage of the four hour break between games to go lay down and rest, I should have, I was tired. In 1999, I won the US Championship and got to play in the News Of The World but didn’t do well at all. I didn’t concentrate on the reason I was there well enough and my attention strayed, so I couldn’t represent my country the way I would have liked. Funny, I tried to win that so many times and the year I won it, I quit.
There’s mind games people play sometimes. I was playing a guy I beat the year before in the same tournament we were going to play each other again, and he tried to upset my by saying, real cocky like, the only reason you beat me last year is because I missed a double.” All I said was, “you have to get a shot at a double first.” I won. We were good friends, it was just darts, and didn’t change us being friends.
I had sponsors, several, and I changed from one to another because one would offer me more, or the business would drop off and my sponsor couldn’t afford it anymore. I was still friends with them when I left a sponsor. There wasn’t a contract, it was just a handshake deal. They paid me because I was popular and people liked me, they didn’t care if I won, I was just another pretty face. They approached me, so I don’t know how to go about getting a sponsor. I spent my career being a free agent. I guess my biggest regret is splitting prize money among team members. I’d win the singles and by the time it got split among four people I didn’t get very much, so I lost money that way.
I’d go through times when the dart would go through the air sideways for some reason and I’d wonder why they were crooked and start holding my hand differently of stuff. But I just kept throwing and after a while they’d straighten out. When that happens even when the dart lands in the triple, it’s still not good because you can’t do it again. When I played a lot sometimes the dart would land tail down and the only thing I could think is I must have twisted the dart a little harder when I released it. The harder you throw the more the dart tails down. If you lob a dart it will never stick straight out, it’ll stick up. If I just hold the dart straight and bring it back straight then shoot it out straight the problems seem to go away.
I stopped playing in 1999. Went to soft tips and I’ll go to tournaments off and on but it’s kind of strange, you know, because the people cheer for the other guy now where they used to cheer for me. I don’t play now and they don’t know me anymore you know? That’s OK though, because people used to cheer for me. In the beginning people would cheer for Conrad Daniels but after about 5 or 6 years after I began winning, they cheered for me. One year, in Las Vegas we won and when I went on stage to get the trophy the people went crazy and some guy told me it was the loudest applause ever. I stood there holding up the two trophies and it was nice, that people would do that for you. When I was playing a match and people would cheer for me sometimes it would embarrass me. I’d feel bad for the guy I was playing against, but I don’t take it personal if they are cheering for the other guy.
One of the reasons I stopped playing was I wear glasses now and that affects my game because the dart hits my glasses. I can’t see as good and I can’t look at a spot so I have to look at the whole double and that takes my area to hit down. Now days I have a small vending company that only handles dart machines and I have them out in a few places. I have an agreement with the regular vending companies that I’ll only do dart machines so it’s OK. I have about 23 teams in my league now and it’s all soft tip. I tried steel tip but the people didn’t want to deal with keeping score, so it didn’t go over. If I was a bar owner I’d want the machines because it brings in money on the side. There isn’t much upkeep and the vender does that anyway. I don’t play in my league but there was one team of girls I helped out by playing on the team. I’d get the score down but I wouldn’t take it out, I let the girls do that. They used to get a little mad at me in a good natured sort of way, but it was all OK. They gave me a little plaque at the end of the year and that was pretty cool. I do a lot of benefit type things now to show that darts are good. I think darts need help with the image they have. Darts seem to be doing OK around here and there’s a few guys on tour from around here now, and they’re doing pretty good so I guess the next generation of players are good players.”
Interviewed Sept. 2003
Robert (Bob) Theide
Career base: Morrestown NJ (Suburb of Philadelphia, PA)
1970, Most Valuable Player in the Pennsylvania State Dart Tournament
Culver City: 1st – Team;
North American Open: 2nd – Singles;
United States Darting Association Open – 1st – Singles;
1971, North American Open: 1st – Singles
American dart league (NECDL) High Average 48.5
1972, Garden State American Dart League High Average – 52.8
1973, Schmidt’s Open (Philadelphia): 1st – singles;
1974, Schmidt’s Open (Philadelphia): 1st – singles.
“I played softball at lot before I played darts, and after a game we’d go back to the tavern for a couple of beers. There was an American dart board in the place and since I didn’t shoot pool, I wanted something to do and picked up the darts. I started playing some people in the place and started winning games and the people would tell me I was lucky to win. I liked playing and started getting good at it so I started practicing and playing more often. Our business was up in Camden at the time and I’d go over to Kelly’s bar for lunch. I saw the dart board and stopped after work for a few beers and some dart playing. I asked Babe Kelly, the owner, about the dart team and he gave me a big score I’d have to make to be on the team, something like 51, and I told him I didn’t think I could make that much but I thought I could shoot 45. They never called me. Then, when I was going to Rutgers night school, I’d stop after school at a place called the Red Eagle to throw some darts. One time the bartender told me one of their players quit and asked me what team I played for and when I said I didn’t play for a team he signed me up for theirs. I played out the season under that guy’s name.
Some people, like a guy named Steve Brown, who was very good, said that some people just have a knack for darts and that I excelled because I was one of them. I didn’t say anything, but it was really because I put a lot of practice time in. I practiced the bulls eye for half an hour first. The reason was, Tommy Eagan told me three things about the bulls eye: if you can control the bulls eye, you can control the games; it gave the best place to develop your grouping of darts; then there was a game called bulls eye. After the bulls eye, I set up a platform to hit, like back to back scores of seven, and back to back doubles a set number of times, then back to back seven score and eight score. Basically it was get the first dart in the double, then play off that dart with the last two. I played for grouped darts and hardly ever played a game where you split darts. Jack Fletcher and Joe Schwartz, guys from Delaware county over by Philly, played those kinds of games. I played in three leagues at the time, on different nights, and I had Sundays off and Mondays off and Thursdays too. But then I’d practice on Sunday and stop in Fairview Gardens on my way home from work for a couple of beers on Saturday, and if I didn’t have to be home and somebody was there, I’d call my wife and tell her I was going to stay and play, if not I went home. A lot of times she’d go to her parents. And Friday nights I played a lot.
I didn’t pull the dart all the way back before I shot it, and I didn’t shoot it with my arm far out either, I sort of flipped it. After my accident, I found out a lot later, I started throwing it instead of flipping it and that was bad. I started pushing the dart out and that got me throwing off side to side. I didn’t take any time off after the accident, I guess I was afraid I’d loose what ever I had, but if I had I might not have started bad habits. At times I could really throw it out there and other times I couldn’t, I wasn’t consistent.
I used to play with Crazy Jack, Jack Eagan, who played out of Fairview Gardens. He was a 41 average player in the league, but for money he played a lot different. He used to play Jim Brady a lot and the more he drank the better he got, until he had enough that it would get to him. Brady would make sure he got enough for that to happen, too.
I didn’t play American darts all that long, maybe six – seven years. I got better at it after I got married because I’d practice at home at lot more. I didn’t play English darts all that long either, maybe three, four, five years is all I played really good. Then I had an accident with a train, over in Philly, and that messed that all up.
In 1970 I played in Philadelphia on an American dart team, and there was a guy named Charlie Young who had a bar there where I saw in Gains Score Card, that was like a news bulletin about darts that was in all the bars over there, there was a team going out to California to play in a dart tournament and they were looking for donations to help with the expenses. I got hold of Junior, Charlie Young, and told him I’d like a shot at playing on the team. So, ah, I paid my own way to California and went with them as part of the team. I had success out there. Basically the difference between American and English was learning to count for out shots and getting used to the longer line. They played English at eight feet at the time. I learned the game in four to six weeks and went out there and came in second place. The reason I lost was I didn’t count right on a couple of shots, and I think I drank too much. In December 1970, I went to a tournament in New York put on by Bob McLeod. It was the United States Dart Association Open and I beat Richie Yost in the finals. What pumped me up was that I had come in second place in California earlier in the year and I didn’t want to come in second place again.
That was the year I met McLoed and I started playing both American and English darts. The longer line in English darts didn’t make any difference once you got used to it, except you didn’t have the real good accuracy from that far back. In fact to get used to the eight foot line, I practiced at eight foot six a few days, then when you move up the line it feels close. In the Delaware county league, where I was playing American darts, they put down a toe board so you had to stay behind the line, so practicing the longer line helped my American dart game. I think I averaged 43 the first year in American darts, then I think I won high average with 46.8 the next year but ended up with almost a 53 average later.
In the beginning I didn’t play money matches, but when I did play for money I played with my own money. Most of the other players didn’t play with their money, they played with somebody backing them, like Lenny Craig and Richie Yost.
Yostie and me used to go to Trenton and play Ernie Reel and Jimmie Hasson and we just walked through them, in American darts, and won about $1100. I got into an argument with Yost because his backer put up the money for Yost and I put up my own money and I didn’t think a three way was split was right, I wanted it to be 50/50. I didn’t ask anybody to back me up with their money, I played on my own. Sometimes I’d get it from Art Caness, who owned the Fairview Gardens but mostly it was my own. When I got married I had a little kitty where I’d put money I won from darts after I took out my expenses for the night, and that was what I used to play money matches. If I won $20 in a night I’d put half in the kitty jar. That way I never went into my own money, so playing for money never bothered me because I was never playing with my last dollar. There was a guy who could play really well for quarters but as soon as you got the money up his game fell apart. There were certain people that way.
Lenny Craig and I played one really good match in a place in Gloucester. Lenny beat me because I started out real good and we were shooting well into the 50s and 60s then after about four hours I was shooting in the low 50s and Lenny was still hitting 55 and 60. We were playing what was called a freeze out, where each person would put up an amount of money, in this case it was $100, then play for so much per game and when somebody won the $100 it was over. We were playing for $10 a game and I was only a few games away from breaking his back earlier, because I came out strong. There was one game in that match where I played something like 67 and lost it. I didn’t crumble after that and it wasn’t the deciding game or anything, it was just a game we played during the match. That was just the caliber of darts we were playing. I remember me & Whitey Vitorski played Jack Fletcher & Joe Swartz and Whitey shot a 57 and I shot a 69 and we barely won. We weren’t keeping track of what the whole score was in those games but we would sometimes add a game up at the end. Most of the time we didn’t know what the total score was.
Ernie and Jim came down to a place Lenny Craig and I were in, looking for Lenny Craig to play a money match. Lenny wasn’t sure about the money end, if there was any, so we went up there and watched Ernie drop $500 in a card game, then another $500 on the dart board, and that’s a lot of money for a guy that did roofing for a living. He had Joe T. , the owner behind him but still, that’s a bundle. There was some talk that Ernie was connected to the Irish Mafia, but I wasn’t sure about that.
I didn’t start out playing money matches. I started playing for beers, then a quarter a game after I got better and thought I could win. Then after a while, when I’d win most of the time, I started playing for more. At that time I controlled the number of beers I’d drink. I’d have a couple, then just sip on one while I played. I remember one time, a matter of months after I got married, I played a match downstairs in the Fairview Gardens until 7 O’clock in the morning against Peanuts, John Lowery. He got action. He took me into south Philly where we got to playing $100 a game against a guy named Sonny Ricobini. A couple of his brothers, or step brothers got killed, not from darts, from other things. The guy ended up owing us $600 but when I found out who he was I wasn’t going to try to collect it. I told Lowery his cut of the winnings that night was the $600 we were owed.
Me and Joe Dick went to Springfield one time and got playing partners for $100 a nine inning game, and I wanted to get more so I told Joe I was going to hold back a little and for him to pour it on, because he was only throwing fours, five’s and sixes, and he said he was trying already. We played the Store brothers up there, and their favorite game was triple thirteen, and like I said, if you play them off their game they’ll stop calling it, I made three triples eight out of nine games, so we didn’t see that game any more. That didn’t work all the time though. Some good players, if that was their game, they’d come back at it because they’d figure you had your shot and they could still play really well in it.
Bob McLoed was trying to do things with English darts and began using me to build himself up. He had connections and everything and tried to get darts on cable TV, I think Joe Baltadonis played in one, and George Silberzahn did something in Boston, but it never took off. He connected himself with Kwiz darts in England because Unicorn had a distributor in America already. He became sort of a sponsor, but he only paid my entrance fees and I got a royalty off the sales of my signature dart, but that was about it. I was sponsored by Schmidt’s beer just before my accident. They paid my travel and board as well as entrance fees.
The first English dart tournaments I played in I used the Widdy, wooden dart. I thought the metal darts were too heavy and then when I did get a metal dart it was Silver trim. Those darts were thinner, and gave me shooting room in the triple and had a grip on them. I used feathers flights, Silver trim flights were the best, Unicorn and Kwiz flights fell apart. I used feathers about all the time, although I did fool around with the plastic ones. I needed the feathers because I didn’t throw hard. Like, I couldn’t throw a nail like Barry Twomblow from England. He used to come over here for Unicorn and put on exhibitions on TV doing things like knocking an apple off someone’s head with a 20 penny nail. That stopped the time he hit the guy in head with the nail, he missed the apple. Kwiz duplicated the Silver Trim dart and that became my signature dart. Brass darts were 15 grams and 20 gram darts were unheard of. I guess the longer you play the heavier dart you want because I switched to the 18 gram dart later. Silver Trim drilled the brass dart out and put lead in them to make them heavier. Eventually I went to an 18 gram tungsten because after I saw them I realized the 15 gram were too thin.
In English darts I’d practice the doubles because at that time the tournament games were double on, double off and if you don’t get double on, you don’t do it. Practice on doubles not only got you into the flow of it, it gave you confidence. In fact, I had a couple of tournaments I won where I was throwing double on all the time, I never missed a double on.
I joined a team in New York City in a place up on 88th street I think it was and I’d drive an hour and a half each way to go play. They had a board back in the corner and people only played in there in league nights. There was a place called the Anchors Away, though, down near Hells kitchen and they played a lot in there.
English darts got started in South Jersey out of Fairview Gardens because we had a team there that was part of the Philadelphia English dart league. I knew the owner and I talked her into it. That was the first team in South Jersey I can think of. After that I talked Joe Baltandonis into putting English dart boards in his place: the Mt. Royal Inn. The South Jersey English Dart League started that way.
I took Joe to the 1971, or ’72 US Open, and he beat me. I didn’t like that he didn’t know how to count and there were people telling him how to count and that broke my concentration. That’s a big thing when you start hearing what people in the crowd are saying. That’s a big bad thing.
I went to California in 1970 and came in second, then in 1971 I won it. Pims Cup, a British liqueur, came to the United States because they wanted to advertise in football until they found out what the price tag was, so then they ran this tournament and got a lot of advertising out of that. They ran a few tournaments then had a round robin in Chicago with the three winners of the other tournaments, one east coast, one west coast and one central. I won that and then went to England and I did pretty good there. You didn’t play heads up over there, you shot partners and we played all their top players in a tournament in Trafalgar Square. We won one match when I took a 102 out. The people loved that because the caliber of player at that time wasn’t what it was later. The team was Jack Carr, from California, me, and Jackie Eagan, the woman from Washington DC who won the women’s section. I’d never played in a tournament until I went to California, even in American darts I didn’t play in a tournament until later at the state tournament. I think the secret to tournament darts is concentration, where you get to the line and blank everything out and zero in on what you want to hit. When I was playing well I’d pinpoint where I wanted to hit that first dart, I’d zero in and concentrate on that spot for the first dart then group off it. I knew if that first one went I could put the other two in there too. I learned something else from Lenny Craig about darts. I played partners with Lenny at a tournament against a couple of other players, then after we’d played for quite a while two of us quit, but Lenny and the other guy played more, and after the other guy quit Lenny played all night against some other guy, a German guy I think. That got me to thinking, if you practice for two and a half hours that has to be equal to five hours of playing and stamina has something to do with tournament play. The waiting, at tournaments, is difficult to handle. I’d try to find a board to stay loose on, so I’d be ready to play, right out of the box, like you have too. The problem with that is that the board you practice on might be different than the one you play on. But you have to stay loose and ready. Towards the end I didn’t do that, I’d sit and relax with a beer between rounds of play.
The first one I went to was held in the Culver City civic center, I think and it was like a gymnasium, with bleachers, you know? There were twenty some dart boards, maybe, and about 150 entrants. We got in with the people from northern California because they were outsiders too, because most of the people were from southern California. The first thing I wanted to know was where I could practice and relax a little.
When I was playing good I looked to get another good player as a partner for a better chance for some money and we usually chopped prize money with partners. Partner games is tough because you have to rely on another person and if they are a little off that could effect you. I guess Ray Fisher was the easiest person to play with as a partner. I remember one time I was with Joe Baltadonis, Ray Fisher and a few other people and we went to a St. Patrick’s day tournament, and Joe beat me in the finals. I didn’t like that one too much, but it taught me something. Me and Ray Fisher were in the doubles finals and I ran out of gas on the triple twenty so I switched to the triple 19 and I had a 171 and a number of 133s. The guys we played in the finals got so wrapped up in the game that after I hit to end the game the guy was going to the line to shoot and we had to tell him it was over, he lost. I think that is the way you have to be. I didn’t want to pay attention to the other person because if you compete to the other person’s score you can psych yourself out. I don’t think I looked at the other individual, I just wanted to score a hundred each time I went up. I remember a time in Canada when the other guy went up to shoot after it was over: I’d shot an eleven dart game.
I don’t think I played English darts that much for money.
One of the best trophies I have is the one for “Most Valuable Player” in the Pennsylvania State Tournament. I was up in Nanicoke, Pennsylvania and played for the Philadelphia team and we won. It was the first time a team from Philly won in a long time. That was in the early ’70s. I was playing both English and American at the time and was playing really well. There were only a few English tournaments but getting ready for them, from the longer line, made you a better American player. Lenny Craig is the one that put into my mind that the line doesn’t really make a difference. He used to play for money at arms length, at the line and back at eight feet. So I thought if he could do it, I could.
The Schmidt’s Tournament in Philly had a big trophy that if someone won it three years in a row they could keep it. Well I won it the first two years but they canceled the tournament after that so I figured it was mine and I kept it.
After I moved here to Delaware, I used to go over here to a place where a couple of older guys played. They even have a league around here somewhere. In about 1998, I tried going back to playing American darts and I could feel a difference in the way I shot a dart, I wasn’t delivering correctly. I sat down and thought about it, the way I used to do it, like analyzing myself, and realized that after my accident, I started developing bad habits to compensate for problems I was having with my eyes and other things, but I didn’t know it. Now, there was something with my leg, I didn’t have my foot right. I used to hold the dart side ways in front of my face before I shot it, so I’d have a second to concentrate a little more and to pick that spot out. Another thing, I was holding the dart up, in front of my eye, and I realized I used to hold it lower and look over it at the board like sighting a rifle. To play darts you have to have x amount of things and one of them is concentration. Another thing is a comfortable stance, and your release is another one. I think when you’re on you should take a picture of your stroke, then when you’re off you could take another picture and see the difference.
I guess if I applied myself I could have gotten it back, but to practice you have to have the time to do that practice and physically, I don’t know if I have the stamina, I have circulation problems with my legs. You have to have a clear mind, you can’t have problems with business on your mind. You need the concentration and the desire and I noticed, when I tried to pick up darts again after laying off for a while, that my concentration was broken by other things. When something you get out of your mind pops back into it that’s a sign your concentration is shot.
In the late ’70s I was only going to tournaments in New England, Washington DC and Atlantic City, and I played in a summer singles league in Philly and I did fairly good in that but I started devoting more time to the business and wasn’t playing or practicing much and tapered off darts. Then in the early ’80s, Barney, Ron Barnstead, and I were partners at a tournament down in Atlantic City, that was the last tournament I played in. I don’t know exactly why, but I stepped back and figured it was foolish to embarrass myself with the way I was playing, and that it was just a waste of time. You can’t play if you feel that way, so I stopped.”
Interviewed April 2003
Passed away June 2004
Career base: Philadelphia Pennsylvania
“When I was 12 years old, my parents bought a bar in the Juniata section of Phila. We lived in the apartment upstairs and I helped out by serving the food. In those days, bars had free food and nickel beers. We also had a dart board. American darts were big then in Philly. I was immediately fascinated by the game. I was told to stay upstairs and away from the bar but I would find any excuse to go down to the bar and throw darts. When the inner part of the board got worn out, it was replaced so I would take the old part upstairs, prop it up on a chair and practice. I soon became very good at it. I was always competitive and loved all sports.
On Friday nights, guys would come in after work and they always ask me to play. We played four on a side and I would always make 40 or 45 or better. Soon guys would come in and ask to take me to other bars to play for money, they would back me, but my mother wouldn’t allow it. One day a promoter came in and asked if I could do exhibitions. Mom allowed that. We were billed as Helen and John and Betty and Bob. We played in different places for prize money, that was a lot of fun. There weren’t many women playing back then – mostly bar owners and waitresses – but they did have a tourney to see who was best. So, at age fifteen, I was the Lady Champion of Philadelphia.
Soon after that we sold the bar and bought one in Mayfair. We still had the darts, though. The guys would come in and there were a lot of money games.
One time, I remember, this fellow came in who wanted to play me. He owned a bakery route and he put that up for collateral and the others backed me. It was the 9th inning – 1 to tie and 2 to win. I accidentally dropped a dart and as I bent to pick it up a thought went through my head, “Helen, what are you doing?” I missed that inning. I just couldn’t do that. It was his livelihood. Not long after that, the board was taken down and I never threw another dart until I was 49 years old. In the meantime I got married, raised three children, my parents sold the bar and my husband died.
I was doing other things by then when a friend of mine said that ladies were playing darts at the Manor Bar. Alice and Charlie Young owned it at that time. I went there. They were getting up a ladies team in this new game – English darts. The ladies were hitting the wall, the floor, the ceiling and everything else. When I threw 3 darts, they all went in the board so they put me on the team. There were only 2 ladies teams – one at our bar and one at another bar – so we just went back and forth every week, playing each other. Now, of course, in 2003, we have two women’s leagues in Philly (one has many bars with several hundred ladies and the other is called the Advanced Singles League).
I continued to play with my Widdies (wooden darts). I still say that I played my best darts with them but I kept getting a lot of bounce-outs. I lost too many darts that way and I was told, “Helen, you’d better switch to brass darts”. There weren’t any tungsten darts yet. We shot from an 8 ft. line back then, later the line was made universal at 7 ft. 9 1/4 ins.
In 1973, Charlie took us to New York where they were starting to play tourneys. I came in 2nd place in my first tourney – that was the Rums of Puerto Rico. Two weeks later we went back and again I made 2nd place – that was the U.S.D.A.
I was invited to go to England with the 1st team to go abroad to play internationally. Al Lippman was our men’s champion. There were a whole bunch of us, a men’s team and a ladies team. Our ladies didn’t lose a match (there was even a ladies team from Sweden there, we beat them too). It was a wonderful experience and I’m sure none of us will ever forget it.
Bob McLeod became my sponsor. He got me a contract with Kwiz Darts who came out with a brass model of my Widdie darts. I was the 1st lady to have her own signature darts. Later, I was sponsored by Sportcraft. They supplied me with all my darting equipment. They gave me a choice of darts. I chose the John Lowe tungsten dart and I use a 1 1/4 in. nylon shaft with standard nylon flights (black). I’ve been using them ever since. They are front loaded with a short barrel and they just feel good to me almost like my Widdies.
In the 1970′s, 1971-1972, there were 7 or 8 ladies from Wash., D.C., Nikki, Linda, Patty Marie, Carol Toulson, Jackie Egan and others who went to New York to play the ladies up there at a place called Jacques’. Jackie and her husband owned “Mr. Egan’s” bar in D.C. Patty and the gang then came to Philly. We went to D.C. on a return trip to play them, then we had a thing going back and forth – it was the “travel team”. We went to New England, they came here. It wasn’t a tournament thing, we just wanted to play each other. We wanted to win but it was just for fun.
When Al Lippman died, we held a benefit tourney for his family. The Washington Area Dart Assoc. sent a busload of players to take part. So here comes this bus with all these people from D.C. Honest to God, we all almost passed out when they all came walking in. That time seemed to be the heyday of darts when people were having fun with it.
About this time, I got a call from Wash., D.C. saying there was a fellow who wanted to play me for $1000. I accepted. A bunch of us drove down there. We played and I struggled with my doubles that day but I did best him.
I didn’t practice a whole lot. We had the women’s league where we played one night a week and we hung out in this club on Sundays (Foederer Club) where we’d shoot darts all night, then sit around and talk darts ’til the wee hours of the morning.
I had a dart board in my dining room and Clem (who was my boyfriend) would come over and we’d shoot for quarters. He was an American darts shooter and a needler. He’d say, “Come on, fishcake, a quarter a game”, then he’d take all my quarters. Then I’d go to his house – he had a nice setup, with a bar and everything – and we’d play some more and he’d take all my quarters again. He actually made me a dart shooter. He made me angry! I’ve always been competitive, what to you mean “fishcake”!!! He gave me the drive to want to win. This desire to win is what makes a dart shooter. You don’t forget a loss, O.K.? You beat me now, but I’ll get you back. To this day, they know they’ll have to play to beat me. I still have the desire to win.
In my case, it was completely natural, so no one taught me how to shoot. It’s mainly hand and eye coordination. Clem was the one to tell me about the “wedge” – that is: 32,16,8,4,2 – for out shots. It’s what we called the wedge. I was so bullheaded I would say, “Oh, get out of here, a double is a double and I can hit any double” so I’d leave myself with a double 11 or something. Finally, he proved it to me and I’d think it out as I went along. Eventually, I went to double 20 because I’m comfortable at the top of the board.
I won most every national in the following days, weeks and years, starting with the 1st Schmidt’s Open, here in Philly in 1973. Then I went to Cleveland and this was very special to me. I lost the 1st 2 games and came back to win the next three in the finals. Clem jumped clean over the tables to get to me and after that everyone came to my room. We sang and celebrated all night long. I think I took my trophy to bed with me that night (heh, heh). From there I never looked back. I won every national after that, I had the jump on the ladies because of my background in American darts. The N.A.O.D.T., Disneyland (Anaheim) in 1974 was a big win for me and the following weekend, we drove to San Francisco. I won the Golden Gate there too. I won $750 in those two weeks that many years ago.
We (the women) had to fight for things in those days. All we had was the one event – ladies singles. I remember winning in San Bernadino and they presented me with this tiny trophy. The men’s winner got a huge one. I was incensed and let them know about it! A lot of the ladies in Calif. were starting to boycott some of the tourneys. I remember that one week when they all left the running tourney and went across the street to play in a bar. At the N.A.O.D.T. on the Queen Mary, we all got together for a meeting with a lady lawyer (Gloria Alred). She spoke to us and gave us some tips on what to do and how to proceed. We now have more tournament events but the prize structure hasn’t improved.
In 1974, I won the Cutty Sark Open in New York. I was presented with a winner’s cup. After the tourney was over, I happened to be standing outside the hotel where the tourney was held with this cup in my hands. Along came a passerby who dropped a dime into the cup. That dime is still in that cup until this day (smile)
One of my proudest moments was being invited to the Muscular Dystrophy Tourney ( in the Tidewater Area) as honored guest. They presented me with a beautiful clock-trophy inscribed “To Helen Scheerbaum – The First Lady of Darts”. The ladies of Wash.,D.C. presented me with a lovely gold locket, also (I still have it and I treasure it).
Gerry Umberger and his doubles partner shot with me in the triples event and we won. I’ve won many mixed doubles events with Frank Ennis and with Danny Valletto. I’ve won triples events with Frank Ennis and Joe Baltadonis, and with Ray Fisher and Danny.
My ladies doubles partner in those days was Diana Atchison from Wash., D.C. She and I won many doubles events in both 501 and cricket. We had good chemistry and she was so pleasant to shoot with. Partners have to like each other and have good camaraderie and a good rapport. It should never come down to blame, like “You should have done this or that” or why didn’t you do this or that”. Lately, I have been partnering with Joyce Hamilton and we have the same rapport. We won both doubles events, recently, in the “It’s A Women’s Thing” tourney in Annapolis, MD. just a few weeks ago (in 2003).
In 1975, Adele Nutter, Julie Nicole, Ellie Nicole and I won the ladies 4 person event in Michigan. I think that was the only time they included a 4 person ladies event.
In 1976, I did win the U.S.D.A. but there was no special award for the ladies – it was just another win, but I did receive a silver bowl.
One of my best memories is Caffney’s Bar in Wash., D.C. The owner was Nick Chantilles. He ran the 1st all ladies tourney and women came from all over. One group even drove all the way up from Florida in a motor home. Nick was the 1st one to give the ladies a chance to compete. He, later, started and ran the Washington Open for years.
In 1985, I went into the Philadelphia Hall of Fame, THAT was special. I was the 1st woman to receive that honor. The women’s league had a banquet each year and all husbands were invited. I didn’t know they were going to do this and when they called me up on stage to present it to me, I made a little speech announcing one of my retirements, I said you can do what I did and better, the whole place erupted and they all ran forward for my autograph. WOW, I remember that and it was a great feeling. People asking for autographs is a nice thing. Even in England, they did that. I took a whole box of wooden darts with me and gave them out as souvenirs. They called them carnival darts and it was fun.
Then at the Chesney tourney, here in Philly, they sold out of copies of the Bullseye News magazine which had my picture on the cover and they all came over for my autograph.
I also was the 1st person elected to the Charity Darts Assoc. of Maryland Hall of fame in 1988. They gave me a beautiful plaque inscribed “In appreciation For All You’ve Done For the Game” and the participant of darts.
Carl Holland came to town and opened a dart supply shop. I asked him if I could work for him and he agreed. I loved working there. People would come in and try out different darts and equipment and I think I helped them. One of my friends came in and said, “Helen, you look like a kid in a candy shop”.
With me, when I play, I get so into it that I don’t know when it’s over. I think there’s another game to play and I’ll say, “O.K., one more game”, and they’ll tell me, “Helen, it’s over, you’ve won”. When I’m really playing well, you could dropped a bomb and I wouldn’t have heard it. I always try to talk to my opponent afterwards because I know how much it hurts when you lose.
I developed tendentious in my elbow and have cortisone shots for it for a while but eventually that crystallized in my elbow and I had to have surgery to correct it. Then, later, I had to go back again because scar tissue had formed there. It took me a long time to get over that. I didn’t have full extension of my arm anymore and it destroyed my coordination. If I had just taken time off I’d have been fine but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to miss the next tourney. I just wanted to play. I also started to think about how I was holding my dart, how I was standing and every aspect of my stoke. It just got into my mind, it’s a mental game, darts, and it requires great concentration on your target. Once you get your stroke down, and you know what you’re doing, don’t think about it anymore. I lost a number of years playing my best from these things.
I now have a “dart room” in my home with a dart board set up, where I have all my trophies, plaques and awards. I’m proud of each and every one of them. But, what I treasure the most are the many friendships I have made over the years – just playing darts.”
Interviewed June 2003
Julie Nicoll- Jennings
Career base: Dayton Ohio
“From 1992 when I started back, to 1998, I had a divorce, a car accident and three hand surgeries but still I went from the bottom of the dart tour to the top. I was going through my divorce in 1991 and 1992, and returned to the tournament trail. There were a lot of comments about Julie not being able to come back. I was in and out of darts but my points were growing and was gaining some status. In 1994 my father passed away, and, ah, that was a real tough year. I was thinking about what I could for a real job. I had worked in my father’s dart business, Eagle Darts, through the 1970s and 1980s doing sales and was good at it and I had worked for a number of dart companies also, you know, Fansteel, DMI. It was some sponsorship but I also did sporting goods shows. I went to the owner of the company I was working for and asked if I had a career path there and was told no. He had a copy of Bulls Eye News on his desk which, on the front cover, showed an article about my dad. He threw the magazine at me and it opened up to a double page ad for Accudart, he said that’s where you need to go, get a job from them, that’s where you belong. I asked if he was going to give me unemployment and he said, I don’t do unemployment, get out of my office. Later he came to my office and told me to see another person. I did and found out they’d pay me unemployment so I could look for another job. A month later I left them and went back on the dart trail full time. I went back east where I got interviewed by Dart World, DMI and Accudart and a week before my unemployment ran out I landed a job with Accudart. They gave me all the pro darts shops nation wide and I did all of the shows for them, then I did all the big box buyers like Sports Authority. I ended up handling the Navy, too. In the first year I tripled the dart board business from $100,00 to $300,000 and after three years it was at $500,000.
I believe there are two kinds of darts players, physical players and natural players, I’m a natural player. I grew up with a brother who is a physical player who had to practice and practice and practice to get his physical ability to the point where he could win, where I’m a natural player and I can sit, watch TV, enjoy what I want to do then pick up the darts and win when I want to because of the way I practice and believe in what I want to do. A lot of that practice is the way I think. If I believe I’m going to win, I’m going to win. But I also practice what I want to do with visualization: Visualizing what I want to do. Starting with the twenty I visualize my darts going into the triple twenty, and I visualize myself throwing the triple twenty. So I’m a natural, like I said. I’ve done very little practice through out my career but in the beginning, when I started playing darts, I played a lot. I was young, I was able to play a lot. As I got older I had a lot of physical problems where I was not able to stand, not able to throw for long periods of time so I didn’t practice, but I did it mentally, and I still do that to this day. I go from tournament to tournament and not throw darts between, but I still win. I will tell you, I’d play better if I did practice.
My whole family played darts in our garage, my dad, Bill Nicoll, my mom, Ellie Nicoll, my brothers: Billy, Greg and Timmie. I’m the oldest.
We started playing what is called steel tip English darts in 1972. Prior to that we just played on a paper wound board in our garage, we didn’t know how to play English darts. Then my dad got invited to play on a team in Dayton Ohio and he got very good, very fast. We were always very competitive in Archery, trap shooting, badminton, volley ball, all sorts of things. And once dad got in the league he found he couldn’t go to a dart shop to buy equipment because there weren’t any so while he was on a business trip in Chicago he found supplies in a bar there, bought some and dropped them on the kitchen table and said, we’re all going to play darts. He hung the dart board in the family room and my brother Billy and I got very good, very fast. That was the start of my career. Actually my whole family played: we were known as the Nicoll family.
We didn’t have a lot of darts to choose from so we sorted around in what we had to find what worked best for us. All that was available were brass barrels and they were big and they were fat. Because the heavier dart is easier to throw than the lighter dart I chose that one. An example of what I mean is: if you throw a little ball of paper into a trash can, if you don’t throw it hard enough it either won’t make it to the trash can or it will float from left to right, but it you throw a little pebble towards the trash can it will go exactly where you throw it, it does not float, and that’s the difference between light and heavy darts. Now, what’s not typical with me is I throw a very heavy dart; 32 grams and I have no grooves or knurling on the barrel, a rounded nose and small taper on the back. I always shot with feather flights until the early 80s, when I was sponsored by Spalding, an American dart company that didn’t sell feathers, and they made me change to plastic flights. We played with brass until we could get copper – tungsten darts, but they were terrible because they would oxidize and turn your fingers green. Then finally someone found nickel – tungsten, and tungsten is a very heavy metal, just under gold in weight, that does not oxidize but is very expensive. So we could get a small diameter barrel, that’s heavy.
Before they came out with plastic flights there were wooden cane shafts we could use and paper flights. When they finally did come out with plastic flights they were called receivable flights and were soccer club logo designs because they were all made in England and everyone had a favorite soccer club. Then someone came up with nylon shafts and they went from there. I experimented with all of them but because I found the feathers gave my darts a truer flight to the board and because of the weight of my dart I needed something to give it that truer flight. Then when I had to switch to plastic I didn’t think about it, I just did it. If I would have worried about it, and decided I couldn’t use them, I would never have been able to get over it. What I had to do was find the correct length of shaft and the correct size flight, but even today the feather would give me a better flight to the board, I just like the control better. The plastic flight works differently than the feather and you have to throw the dart differently with a plastic flight than you do with a feather flight. The plastic flight will come off if a dart goes close to another dart but a feather doesn’t, so that means you have to move around on the line to find a clear path to the spot you want to hit and can’t shoot directly where the first dart is. That means you have to reposition yourself and that means you have to be a far better player to hit your target.
I am a spot shooter and that came from my fat darts and feather flights. I’m moving constantly on the line which is typical of an American style dart shooter because they shoot the fat wooden darts. Spot shooters are not typical of the dart shooters of today, they’re group shooters and they don’t know how to be spot shooters.
In the beginning you have to get your mechanics down so you can just go with it, if you’re a natural player. Mechanics is the way you stand, the way you throw your dart, you have to throw your dart the same way, your arm has to go the same way. Over the years your mechanics change because you change, your arm gets stronger and you don’t need as long a follow through or back throw. For the first ten years I put in a lot of practice developing my mechanics. The first three years I didn’t stand the way I do now, I leaned forward on one leg with the knee bent. We were still learning how to play darts: learning the numbers, where to stand on the line and developing hand eye coordination. Another thing about me is I’m right handed and left eyed. My dominant eye is my left eye. I don’t draw the dart back to the left eye though. There was a study done of baseball pitchers which found the majority of them had their dominant eye on the opposite side of their throwing arm and I wonder if that is true of dart players.
I believe I got good because I grew up playing men, because there were no women to play against around Dayton. I grew up playing against men only, like Dave Service. When I entered tournaments I entered all events because they are not men’s events they are open events and the reason they had ladies events was because the ladies were afraid to enter the open. Not all of the ladies were afraid to enter the open events and I believe that if ladies were to made play in the open events the women would be as good, if not better than the men. I believe in my generation women were not taught to be competitive. I was taught to be competitive, I grew up with three brothers and my father expected me to be just as good as them. Typically, girls in school did not have competitive sports so girls growing up were not taught to be competitive. Now days you can not say that. Girls are being taught to be competitive. You know, we’ve got organized sports, any sport you want. So, although girls today are being taught to be competitive, that still has not changed in darts and I think it has to do with the age factor. There are a larger number of older ladies playing darts than younger ladies and maybe that’s why they still have the ladies events versus the men’s events.
I got married in 1978 and had my first daughter in 1979 and I was in and out of darts for a period of ten years. I played leagues but I didn’t play national tournaments every weekend like everyone else did. I showed up at the Witch City and won the singles, then didn’t show up again for six months. My daughter Jenny shoots a 24 gram dart and she’s twenty one, and Jessie is 24, and Jessica shoots a, wait, I take that back. Jenny is 26 gram and Jessie is 24 gram, Jenny is 21 years old and Jessie is 24 years old. It’s easy to get grams and years mixed up, I guess. They’ve been around darts all their lives and they travel occasionally. Jessie has beaten me in the top four in a tournament which was quite interesting. I really got a charge out of it. I did not enjoy loosing but I enjoyed watching my young daughter’s reaction as she was strutting up and down screaming, I beat my mother, I beat my mother.
I’ve gotten better at accepting a loss as I’ve gotten older but in the beginning it was terrible. I will say I’m a good loser, I don’t throw my darts or have a tantrum but I don’t like to loose, I’m not there to loose. I grew up with my father watching me play and immediately after I lost he’d tell me what I did wrong and that didn’t always sit well. The timing was always wrong.
My brother Billy and I used to play for odd jobs around the house, who was going to do the dishes, who was going to do the lawn. We put things up for grabs, no one wanted to do the dishes or take out the trash or do the laundry, so we’d play darts to decide who would do what. Then my mom and dad would get into it.
In Ohio we were allowed in bars where there was food, and we used to go in a place where Sam Bowers and Sandy Tinnerman played. They were on the first team to go to England, in 1970 with Bob McCleod. Sam Bowers learned darts in England when he was there during the Second World War, and he taught us how to play the game. He drilled learning our numbers into our head and we studied out shot combinations from out charts, at first, then we learned the right way. The out shot chart is not the correct way of taking out shots so we set up our own way of doing it.
Cricket was a big game in the mid west and the strategy we use of instead of just close out, where one player would follow another, you would jump ahead an inning to try to score and keep ahead that way, was more or less developed in the mid west.
I did not have a regular practice where I shot doubles around the board or anything like that, I just played the game.
Every one goes through slumps as they get better, you have to go through a slump to get to the next level. I’d find out I was in a slump because I wouldn’t win and my confidence would be blown. I was fourteen – fifteen and was still learning, I didn’t know what I was doing. Around then I read about the power of positive thinking and that’s what I believe helped me in darts.
Prior to going out to the North American in 1975 my father changed my stance. He up righted me, and turned me sideways and I just exploded and couldn’t miss after that. I went out to Disney Land and won it. That was pretty exciting.
In 1975 we went to California to the North American Open Darts Tournament. When I walked through the door I saw more dart boards than I had ever seen in one place and there were more people than I had ever seen. I felt intimidated but once I got on the dart board, I was fine because I knew where I was and felt under control. I was 17 and won it.
I don’t believe I received the respect that most players did because there weren’t any other teenagers out there. My brother Billy and I were the only teenagers there. There were no youth events, there were no other youth players. It wasn’t an event for children. I was an oddity. I don’t think that had any impact on me at all, I played every name person there was to play. I don’t remember the winning shot but I remember taking the trophy home, and my dad giving me $100 out of the winnings and going to buy a $50 pair of blue jeans. Then, a week later we went to Virginia Beach and I beat Helen Scheerbaum in the finals there, three out of five.
I qualified for a Hudipohl beer tournament in Ohio where they held qualifiers in places all over Ohio, on specific dates and times, and the finals were held in the Hudipohl brewery in Cincinnati. I paid my $2 and played my qualifying game and had the fifth highest qualification in the state, but never got to go to the finals because my dad sent me to New York on a business trip.
I went over to the Master’s in England each year as a result of my contract with Accudart. Because of that I didn’t have to compete in the play off. I went there three times and managed a couple of top sixteens. The last match I had was with Trina Gulliver, and in the fifth leg I just missed a 170 out. After two triple twenties my dart bounced off the wire for the double bull and she took 128 out, she didn’t miss. It was one of those kinds of matches.
The English tournaments are different than ours. The big ones are not open entry, where people have to win their way in and there are dress codes. All the matches are scheduled, even with a chalker and time for the match. They play the best of 5 or best of 7, 501.
We have a problem in America, still to this day from when I played in the 70s, 80s and 90s, we need people to dress up. If we’re going to get on TV we need to look at different sponsors than we have traditionally. Clothing sponsors, shoes, or maybe even make up for the women.
We have a lot more dart players than we did in the 70s and we need to educate the public about our game. The electronic machines have done something our board can’t do because it has the lights and sounds and you put money in it like an arcade game. It brings people over to it. Without a person actually standing there playing on a bristle board, a person can’t learn the game, but with a machine there someone will put coins in it and play and learn from the machine. I worked on developing the electronic bristle board while I was at Accudart, and they are good.
Before I went to California, for the NAODT, I asked Conrad Daniels if he’d play mixed doubles as my partner and he said, sorry kid I don’t play mixed doubles, my wife would get jealous. Then as Conrad and I were getting our trophies for winning the singles events he said, hey kid, why didn’t you tell me you could play darts. That’s what I remember about winning my first major tournament. After that Connie and I played mixed doubles and mixed triples but it took a while and wasn’t for about nine years.
It took me a while to convince the top players to play with me. I had to win quite a few tournaments because I was a kid. In women’s events I played with my mom because all the top players were adults and I was a kid, they didn’t want to play with me. After I won the next two tournaments that changed. I’d won the NAODT, Virginia Beach and then at Detroit I came in second in singles, but won the doubles and four person.
I like playing with the same partner all the time. In my early days I asked every top player there was to be my partner. I went right down the list but they were mostly hooked up with somebody already. I asked Nick Virachkul, who at that time was at the bottom of the list, you know just coming up, and he said sure, I’ll play with you. I played with Nick for three or four years, maybe longer. I didn’t have a regular partner for ladies events for quite a while so I looked for a partner at every tournament. I won six different times in five months with different partners, it didn’t matter who I played with. It seemed like, when you weren’t liked and had that target on your back, everyone would hook up against you, even though they might want to play with you. You’d think that when the opportunity to play with the best player around arose people would beat the door down but that didn’t always happen to me, but I would get lucky and win.
I think everyone has luck in darts, like when the person they are playing misses the double. I think my name and my bravado, the way I walk up to the board is an intimidation. I felt intimidation in the beginning, very much so, but not now. I overheard a conversation between two women players and one of them said, that Julie Nicoll scares me. The other one asked why, and the girl says I don’t know, I don’t know. Then the other one says, does she walk up with her left hand in her pocket and her right hand out and say, Hi, I’m Julie Nicoll? And the girl says, yea, and she says, Oh, she does that to everybody. And I asked, do I really? I didn’t know.
I love playing money matches. I was once asked, Julie you always want to play a money match, you never want to play for free. I said, well, how do you prepare to play in a tournament? You prepare in your living room or just playing for fun? No! I prepare for that pressure by playing for money and she said, well I can’t afford to play for money. I said, you can afford to drink, for $20 or $30, you can afford to play for money. Say you only have $20. You can decide how much pressure you want for the night. You can play 20 games for a dollar, four games for five, two games for ten or one game for twenty. And that’s how you prepare yourself for that pressure. I think money matches are even harder pressure to deal with because that hurts you in your pocket. You have to make the shots right then and there. I think playing under pressure is part of my positive thinking. I only look at the top line of the prize structure in a flyer for a tournament, there’s no other line on there because, in my mind that’s all there is for me to win.
I had different sponsors and different arrangements. I had full sponsorships, and part sponsorships where a sponsor would give me maybe $300 to do with as I wanted. I had full sponsorship with added incentives where they would pay all my expenses, but if it were a $20,000 tournament, for first I would get a $1000 bonus, $750 for second and top four I got $500. I’ve had full expense account and no bonus too, so I’ve had different sponsorships. I’m not sponsored right now, 1995 through 1998 was when I was sponsored.
I played Carol Tolson, from Washington DC in a money match up in Connecticut for $25 per game, Freddie Berstecker was backing her. I hadn’t won anything yet, I was sixteen years old. She was a great person to play, a great lady player, never missed. She was tougher than Helen Scheerbaum because she new her numbers better than Helen. I shot a ton forty and I’m up chalking my ton forty and the crowd was cheering and I thought it was for me but it was for Paul Student who streaked the bar. I beat her for a couple of hundred dollars before she quit.
The year after I won the NAODT there was this British lady who came out. Great dart player, beautiful lady, long blonde hair. She knocked my brother out of the open singles and to this day we haven’t heard the end of that. She was having dinner after the tournament and my father, who I thought was my greatest fan, said, I always thought my daughter was the best women dart player I’d ever seen, but Maureen Flowers is far better. Well I excused myself and went to the ladies room I was so upset. It killed me. Another British lady at the table came into the ladies room to console me and she said, you know Julie, one of these days you’re going to get there, you’ll be good. Now, I’m eighteen years old, you know? I won that tournament a year earlier. Now, we have a week before the Golden Gate Classic and I’m so mad at my whole family I’m not talking to anyone and on Saturday I make it to the finals and so does Maureen Flowers. The finals were on a stage and as I turned away from the board, while taking warm up shots before the final match, I tripped over the standard. I ended up flat on my face, looking right into my father’s face as he stood on the floor at the edge of the stage. He said, Nicoll, you’re not going to win it this way. She started the game with her first dart off the board and the next two single twenties. Maybe that was my tournament luck at work. My last four darts of the first game were 119 to leave 32 and then I took it out on the next shot. My last five darts of next game were another 119 to leave 52 and I took that out with two darts the next turn. That was how I won the Golden Gate Classic. I’ve won bigger and better tournaments but this meant more to me because of the statement my father made, and I proved to him that I was the better player. Incentive comes in different forms.
There was a fella I played for money in a bar in Columbus Ohio. My father had sent me on a business trip to a bar named the Crazy Horse Saloon, the owner wasn’t there so I waited at the bar and all these people started coming in to play darts. They were choosing up partners and changing partners each game. I asked if I could play and after being informed they were playing for money I said, that’s OK with me and the guys said all right you can get in the next one. Well, I never failed to play and was winning each time I played. There was one guy who always ended up on the other team and paying me. Finally he said he wanted to play me heads up. I was supposed to be home by eight O’clock and was late by the time I had $160 in my pocket and this guy still wanted to play me, so I made a phone call home. My mother was screaming at me, where was I it’s eleven O’clock, get home. I spoke to dad and I told him the whole story and asked if I could take a check. No check my dad said, get home. A couple of weeks later my dad and brother went up there and got into a dart game for money too. They were told they should have been there a couple of weeks earlier, there was some girl in there who was cleaning everybody out. Well, dad told them, that was my daughter.
I’m in Cincinnati and I’m about seven months pregnant and just standing there throwing some darts and kind of relaxing and this big Texan sort of guy walks in wearing a big cowboy hat. He walks up to the bar and tells the bartender, I’m looking for a money game, I’m pretty good, and I want a money game. The bartender and some guy at the bar said, she will. He walks over and says, I hear you play for money. I said, yea, make it easy on yourself. I’ll play you for some money. He said OK, how about $10 a game. I said OK, whatever. He said show me a cork and I stood up there on the line ready to shoot and my flight had fallen off. He taps me on the shoulder and says, excuse me, you need this to shoot the dart. I looked at him and said no I don’t. I turned the dart around with the shaft toward the board and shot a double bull with it. I shot it like a nail. The guy just looks. I took him for five straight and $50 bucks and that was the last we saw of him.
I always played for money between matches at tournaments but now a days you can’t get a game for money. Of course that didn’t count as practice!
During the time I was out of darts the caliber of women player increased a lot. When I came back I had to shoot a lot more tons and ton forties and make higher out shots. There are more players and they are better.
I had the “Yips,” or dartitis, in the 80s, but I got out of it. I was pregnant, and I developed carpal tunnel syndrome and all the fingers in my hand were numb. I was loosing all my confidence and everything, and then I couldn’t let go of the dart. What I would do was stand there and rock my arm back and forth and try not to think about it, then just throw. It took three months to get over that. I played my way through it and a lot of it was mental. I think that as you play you begin to develop nasty habits. Your fingers change on the way you hold the dart and you don’t realize it. I think players need coaches because while you’re playing you’re doing things that you don’t realize you are doing and a coach can pick these things out and can correct you faster than you can correct yourself. If you’re playing someone you know you can beat, you might start thinking about how you’re doing things instead of just throwing your dart. Then when you get out of that match and into a tougher match with someone you have to throw well against it just happens and you don’t even think about those things. Instincts come about and you can just throw. You just pull it all together and after the match you think, how’d I do that?
When you start out and are the underdog everyone is rooting for you and that’s great. Another thing I had to learn, as a youngster, you think everyone is your friend because everyone is rooting for you, but then after you win you’re not the underdog anymore and everyone is gunning after you, and they’re not rooting for you anymore, and they’re not nice, there’s only mom and dad out there. After the third tournament after the North American there weren’t any friends out there. Only if they wanted to be my partner were they my friend. I had a big target on my back.
I can remember going home and the newspapers called up and wanted to interview me, then I was sitting in class in high school and I’m thinking, I’m the North American dart champion, what a feat!!
You know, there are a lot of people who play darts. If you look in people’s garage you’ll see a dart board and you can go into any Irish bar and find a dart board. There is a lot of room for growth. Our national organizations need to work to expand darts in America. I believe American dart manufacturers need to promote darts. The United States is the largest dart market in the world. Tournaments should be designed primarily for Americans, with events for the women and which do not exclude entrants who are not up to world level of play. Our tournaments need to draw as many entrants as they can.
Our sport needs a personality to represent us. Our players should be coached in how to give an interview and there should be interviews arranged for them. Like when I worked for a manufacturer I took some buyers to a tournament in Virginia Beach, and when walked in I couldn’t get five feet in the door and someone was stopping me and talking to me and getting autographs. I got them over to a dart board and I’m showing them how to play and explaining how to play and they are there a couple of hours and I’m inundated with all these fans. When I was walking them to their car one of them commented: Spending time with you at a dart tournament is like spending time with Dale Earnhart in the NASCAR pits.
There isn’t one single event that stands out in my career and that’s probably because darts comes easy to me, I really haven’t worked at it like everyone else has.
I had a car accident that has made me so I can’t stand for a long time but last November I won the Witch City and went on to Virginia Beach to come in second in the singles. You know, I’m still in there. I’m the come back Queen.”
Interviewed May 2003
Raymond (Ray) Fisher
Career base: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1970, Philadelphia Singles Shoot (American darts) – Champion;
1972, North American Open Darts Tournament – Open singles Champion;
1973, North American Open Darts Tournament – Open singles Champion;
Wins by City:
Chapel Hill NC, Virginia Beach VA, Detroit MI, Washington DC, Long Island NY, Riverside CA.
Member of the Philadelphia Darts Hall of Fame since 1987;
Member of the National Darts Hall of Fame (Maryland) since 2000;
Competed against Eddie Faye (Philadelphia legend) at the age of 19; retired from active league competition at the age of 72, being the oldest dart player to have competed in Philadelphia open dart leagues.
“I won a match against Nick Virachkul, 31 games to 28 games of 301, for $500. The match was played on an elevated diaz with three steps to it. After each shot you had to go down the steps while the other person took his shot then back up to take yours.
I won a match game of 3001 against Alan Evans, the then world champion, in 1974 in which I averaged 95.77 per turn (31.9 per dart), including the out shot, which inspired a poem by Jerry Walters and an article in the British press headlined: The game Alan lost could bring him fame.”
A team came from jolly olde England to fun city on St. Patrick’s Day
“The best in the World,” they were touted, when they came to the US to play.
It is true that they never were beaten, and were entitled to worldwide fame,
but the team brimmed with over confidence the day that they stepped off the plane.
The Yanks were just rank beginners, and the English would put them to shame.
Why, the Yanks still threw wooden darts they had used in the American game.
The dart world was in for a shocker, from the time the first dart was thrown.
The crowd could hardly believe it, the Yanks were holding their own
The people all cheered for their idols, the excitement hung heavy in the room,
And the smiles of the English had vanished, as the Yanks had sealed their doom.
When all of the scoring was over, the Champions had been dethroned,
But their pride could never be taken, the defeat must be atoned,
The Champion of Wales gave a challenge, to play any Yank in the hall,
One game for a thousand dollars, to be paid by the one who would fall.
Ray Fischer accepted the challenge to play Alan Evans of Wales,
He offered to play five oh one and was laughed at, “That game’s not for males,”
“Let’s play a man’s game,” England answered, the score should be three thousand and one.
Ray accepted the figure, and opened with a “ton.”
The match was no even contest, Ray Fischer had won great fame
As he beat the great Champion soundly by throwing a ninety nine dart game.
The World Title still belongs to England, but notice has hereby been served,
that the USA is coming, and believe that as gospel word.
“I started playing darts because of my father. He was a good dart player but wasn’t interested in anything beyond playing for beers locally. He was a really good triple player, in fact he did a trick with the old Ohio blue tip matches where he’d put one in the cork and he’d light it with the dart.
When I was 13 or 14 he brought home an old dart board they we throwing away, and some old darts and set it up down in the basement so I could play. No one showed me how to play, like how to hold a dart or shoot it, I just picked the dart up and the most comfortable position I was in I just threw it. A lot of people think you aim a dart. I don’t aim a dart, I look at what I want to shoot at and then it’s accuracy of your arm, that’s all. I don’t see how you could be competitive for very long aiming a dart, that’s very difficult to do, you have to have a very easy stroke. Any body who is any good, they stroke, they don’t aim. Sometimes I go around and look at how other people do it, and I can see how they can be good at that, but I can’t do it that way.
My father would come down and beat the crap out of me on the dart board, of course, and I got determined to beat him. I kept practicing and when I got around 17 or 18 I beat him and he’d never play me after that. He played with me but not against me. When the English dart game came around the guy my father used to play American darts could never get him to play, but one time he did. They played 301 double bull on and double bull off and my father beat him. After that he’d never play the guy again. He’d always complain about a sore elbow or shoulder or something and he’d go around bragging how he’d beat John McShane. He was totally different than me in that if I lost to someone I had to get even. I always aspired to be the best, I wasn’t content to be mediocre in some bar. If I heard about somebody who was good down on Frankford Avenue I’d want to go down and play ‘em. I guess that came from the way I grew up and all. I had to be the best.
I got into an American dart league when I was 18 years old, in 1948. I played for a while then I went into the service and when I got out everybody was playing where ever they were comfortable on the line. Some were toeing a 6’9″ line they weren’t playing the game according to the rules so I just quit for a few years. I got back in the league in the middle ’60s.
I began playing English darts around 1970. Charlie Young had discovered a tournament was being held in California for money prizes. Him and four other good shooters from the area went to the tournament and won every event and came home with $1500. At this time Joe Pacchinelli, Dan Valletto and myself were shooting in an American dart tournament in Freeland Pennsylvania. This was a three man team tournament where all of the best players in Pennsylvania competed. We won this tournament over a period of three weekends and received $21 each and a small trophy. To my surprise I was voted the MVP. Having found out about our guys win in California we asked Charlie how we could learn how to play this English game. He later had an English board put in his bar. From then on the game grew in popularity and that’s how English darts was introduced in our area.
In 1987 or ’88 I got my signature dart from Accudart along with a sponsorship. It was a 24 gram barrel with an aluminum shaft and a teardrop flight, in fact I have the case that has my signature on it. I won the NAODT the first time with wooden Widdy darts and the second time with metal darts. What brought me to metal darts was the Accudart sponsorship and as such I would use their dart. I had to work with the darts a while to learn how to throw them, they were like nails. I was used to shooting a thick Widdy dart and it took some adjustment. I experimented with longer shafts and shorter ones and my darts kept leaning down in the board. I told them to cut down the rear of the barrel and finally they started to go straight. So, all my work was put into the flight and shaft. I stayed with these darts and still shoot with them to this day. It’s very hard for me to shoot a Widdy dart now as I have become used to the thin metal dart. Accudart is out of business now but a few years ago Frank Ennis, and I went up to the Accudart factory, and they treated us like royalty and showed us these new darts they had, $100 a set, guaranteed not to fall out. So they gave Frank and I a set to try. I couldn’t get them to stick in the board. I shoot with two fingers on the dart and I don’t know if that was it, or what, but I just couldn’t get them to stick. I wanted to use them in the worst way, after all they were good enough to give me a darts, but I couldn’t use them. I tried everything I could not get them to stick in the board. I finally wound up giving them away.
When ever I wasn’t playing football or something, when I was young, I’d be practicing darts. For hours and hours I’d practice. I used to throw nine innings all the time and try to beat what I called par. That was an average of five, which is a score of 45 over nine innings. Anytime I could score over forty five I thought I was doing OK. I did that everyday for years. My game was to play steady, if you’re inconsistent you’re not going to get anywhere. I’d look at the center of where I wanted to hit with the first dart and then I’d play the next ones off that one. I was a group shooter, and I do that even today. My first dart is a guide dart, then I go from there. Other times I’d shoot the first dart then group the other darts with it so all three had the feathers touching. Like when I was playing Alan Evans in New York, all I could see was that triple twenty. You could have set off a bomb next to me and I wouldn’t have heard it. I wasn’t nervous, but I was scared that I might lose. It’s hard to describe the feeling of really being centered on what you are doing so much you don’t hear anything and nothing distracts you. It’s not like being actually scared but its being really keyed up, and not nervous. I’ve played for a quarter a game and was more nervous, but not that day.
When I switched to English darts I didn’t practice that much, I was getting older then and I was getting tired easier. Now my arm gets tired and I can’t play very long. I have to limit my playing time. If there was a game I wanted to get ready for, I’d practice doubles and singles. I’d try to play singles around the board without missing one and that was very hard. The best I ever did with doubles around the board was 60 darts. I find it hard to practice now because you’re playing against yourself, there’s no incentive to do it. What I did was strengthen my arm a little bit so I could get upstairs for the double twenty when I needed to. It’s a lot different going upstairs than it is for the double sixteen. I don’t even like the double sixteen. I’d rather shoot up top. I gear my game for the top of the board. I have to be careful on the low innings because I’m not that good on the low innings. I really have to be very, very careful how I shoot them.
I used to play with an intense fervor, I hated to lose. Hateful of losing. Losing made me feel as if I was inferior. I couldn’t stand losing, I’m sort of an introvert and a little self conscious from my upbringing and I couldn’t tolerate losing. I always wanted to look good and be looked up to by people. It wasn’t just in darts it was everything I did. I always went to play knowing I could win. I thought: I can win, I can win this.
When I was 18 years old I played in a bar down at 3rd and Cambria streets in Philly. I could play on the team but I couldn’t drink. I used to bet on scoring 50 and I’d do it more often than not. One time I shot a 60. I once played Joe Walls from 29th and Girard, a very good shooter, we played a nine inning match for $50 a game. The first 12 games nobody shot under a 50 and it was tied six to six. Then I won the next three games and won the match.
In the English game I have a certain way I play the different innings. The sixteen is the one inning that really bothers me, I have to really push it in there. I think being able to play all the innings is knowing the board. I’ve played a lot of Cricket so I’ve learned how to play the board and I know where the innings are and how to play them. I approach each inning differently. I shoot high on the low innings, I shoot for the wire at the top of the triple. I’m not a guy that shoots under darts that’s why I go low on the twenty but I can’t do that on the low innings.
When I started I began memorizing the number combinations for what I had to make to end the game. It was sort of like mathematics came easy to me in that regard. I usually play 501 games and until you get down to 100 you try to score as much as you can. All you have to do is remember what shots will get you down to a double. You either try to get to 32 or 40, unless you are desperate and you need one shot for 50. Now, there’s only one number below 100 that you can’t take out with two darts and that’s 99, but all the rest you can take out with two darts.
In New York at the US Darting Association International Classic, in 1972. I’d been knocked out early, mostly through a mistake in my counting where I thought I had 32 left but it was really 14. Well that 7 could have been that big and I’d have never hit it. It threw me way off and my opponent kept plodding down and plodding down and finally came down and beat me. So then, while everybody else is shooting, I’m keeping score and during this time I’m throwing and I’m hitting everything I’m shooting at. I’m thinking here I am knocked out of this thing and I’m shooting beautifully. Then everything was over and George Silberzahn won the tournament. The British were complaining the game that had been played in the tournament wasn’t a man’s game and they wanted a game for a thousand dollars and put Allan Evans up to play 3001. The Americans at this time were tired, so I went over to Bob McCloed and said, look Bob I’m hitting pretty good, how about giving me a chance? So he said OK, and everybody agreed to let me play him. Bob put up $500 and my team members that I played with that weekend put up the other $500 and we played. We played 3001 and I was to get the lead right from the start. He started with a 60 and I shot a 125, just missed a 180 and from then on I was just looking at the triple twenty. The British looked at me like, wow where did this guy come from? The long game was right into my style of play, the longer I play the better I am. The worst part of winning that match was that it was hard to get a game after that. No one would play me. When you beat the best player in the world it scares people away. Well, that was my 15 minutes of fame. As a result of that match, my good friend Jerry Walters wrote a poem describing the match and making a point of how good a showing the Americans made against this outstanding English team.
Early on there were usually some money matches against a couple of really strong players who wanted to play. There weren’t very many single matches so you really couldn’t get anything going. We did have one singles tournament and I beat Theide in the finals. Al Lippman played Joe Patchanelli, Joe won then Theide played Joe and won, then I played Theide and beat him. I beat him down at Al’s 11 to 7. That was in English darts, I couldn’t beat him in American darts. At one time they had a tournament in the American Legion hall with all the best American dart players there, and Bob Thiede was by far the best, bar none.
There was one time, in Charlie Young’s place after a tournament there, some players started a money game. I did not play at first and they were chiding me about not playing. Just then a young guy they didn’t know came in and I said I’d take him for a partner and they said OK. Well, we played and after a while they ended up going around the bar trying to get more money after we won about $500 from them. That was the time George Silberzahn and I played partners.
When ever I’d lose I thought of it as a learning experience, a way to improve my game. I would get mad but I didn’t let it get to me. Losing made me mad but I didn’t say anything to my opponent. I’d go sit quiet and get over it. You know, it happened, so it happened, you can’t worry about things like that because it won’t do any good.
Joe Baltadonis and I did get a match with Lucie Varga and Ernie Rill over in Roebling New Jersey and we shot our behinds off. We beat them 26 to 12 and in the 38th game we had a 12 dart 501 game. They didn’t want a rematch but I did play Lucie a match for $500 and won 16 to 15.
One time I was invited to New York to play in a series of matches by a fella named Robinson who was setting it up. I played the first match against John Toddy for $500 and I won the first 12 games and beat him 26 to 7. Never heard from them again about another match.
In 1971 I went to the Cleveland dart tournament, that was the first one I went to and I used my Widdy darts. I went out in the first round! Then I went around the place looking for money games. Then in 1972 I went to the North American Open Dart Tournament in Culver City, California and won it. In fact, I didn’t loose a dart game in California for two years, I won it the next year too.
You get on these rolls. A lot times you get lucky, there were times when I could have been beaten if the other guy would have hit the double. It’s possible that the other guy might not have missed if he was playing against somebody else, but you never know. There were times when I felt intimidation against some people so I guess other people could feel it against me too. I did have a reputation the second time out there and I guess that did help a little bit, but they didn’t know me the first year, you understand? There was a football coach who said luck is the result of hard work and preparation, so I guess that’s true in darts too. The reason for the pressure is, you can’t afford to miss, or you’re out. You have to do it right then. What people don’t understand is that darts is the same as any other professional sport. You don’t know who’s going to win all the time, you see some who are a little better than other ones, but you don’t really know who is going to win. You have to be able to adjust to the game. Winning has to do with knowing the game and making the adjustments. You have to adjust to the board and adjust to the situation around you, you can’t let people bother you when they’re talking and all, you have to concentrate. You know, there’s a lot to it. If I get thrown off my game I can throw darts all around the board the same as anybody else, but if I’m concentrating it’s different.
There is a lot of waiting around at tournaments. You could be called in the first round and then wait for hours until you’re called again, and what do you do all that time? I’m not a drinker, so I’d shoot the bull with people and try to get into a game of pinochle or something.
Once out in California, I think it was in the second North American Open, this young fella, came over and said, can I have your autograph. Well, I was flattered and said sure and gave it to him. Then he said, I thought you were ah, Duesenberg or somebody. They set him up to do that you know. You don’t mind that because when they’re doing that they’re thinking about you and you’re a little bit of a celebrity. They wouldn’t do that to somebody that gets knocked out in the first round, so I took that as a compliment.
It’s not always true that the two best players win in partners, compatibility is important with partners. How they take you shooting a poor shot is important, and patting you on the back for good shots is good too. Frank Ennis was always that way, that’s why I liked playing with Frank. I considered the person rather than the dart shooter but of course he had to be able to play well. I know Danny Valletto, as good as he was, he needed a pat on the back and I would do that. I didn’t have any sense of glory about which partner makes the winning shot. If my partner did it I was just as happy as if I took it out. When Danny and I played in the National Unicorn doubles finals tournament in Memphis, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. That was the time George Silberzahn’s partner, Tony Money wanted to play for money the night before the tournament and I was going to play him but Danny did and he beat him. Danny could beat anybody at any given time. He had this match in Trenton against a young guy named Rick Nye for a lot of money. He drove up from Wildwood to play in shorts and a cap, he looked like he just got finished working. He proceeded to win the match easily. Rick wanted a rematch and Danny says, I’ve got some things to do, so call me in a couple of months.
I never really disliked anyone I played with or against but there was one guy up in Jersey I didn’t like, but he was the only one. I had a aura about me that I was angry at a person I lost to but that was not the case. I was just angry about loosing.
The Philadelphia women’s league has a mixed partners tournament every year. Helen Scheerbaum asked me to be her partner one year and we got knocked out in the first round. She asked me again to be her partner that next year. I was reluctant to do it but did, and we won. Our toughest match was against Joyce Hamilton and her partner, who was a girl. She was the last person to enter and there weren’t any men left so she took the girl. It took three games to beat them and one game I hit a 180, I couldn’t believe how hard it was. Here we’re talking about an 80 and a 73 year old player winning a tournament, how do you like that?
In the early ’80s Danny, Helen and I used to shoot mixed triples and won three straight: Dallas, Cleveland and Detroit. I believe that is a record that still stands.
After I won the NAODT the second time, I was approached by Accudart, an American company that manufactured darts. They became my sponsor until about 1987 or 1988. After that I stopped going to tournaments. I was in my late 50s or early 60s and I was getting tired, I couldn’t take all that waiting. I felt my time for going to these tournaments had run its course. It was time for the younger players to take over.
The most memorable moment for me was that first win in California, the NAODT in 1972. I still cherish that and I still have that trophy. You never know if you’re ever going to win again, and I was eliminated in the first round in my first tournament I played in so after winning I felt like I was on top of the world, I really did. Funny thing, we had stopped in Las Vegas on the way to the tournament and went to Circus Circus where they have a dart concession. We were breaking all the balloons we shot at and the guy told us we had to go. I said, that’s probably the only thing we’ll ever win out here.
Another fond memory is when, in 1969 or 70, three of us from Philadelphia went to Freeland, upstate Pennsylvania,, and won the three man state tournament in American darts. No one from Philadelphia had ever won up to then. It had always been upstaters. One hundred and forty three teams entered and elimination’s were across three weekends. It was double elimination and in the finals we had to beat the other team twice since we’d lost in the first weekend. We came out of the losers bracket to get into the finals. I was voted most valuable player in that tournament.
Then there was beating Allen Evans and the poem Jerry Walters wrote for me which is now in the archives at Texas University in Austin.
I am also a member of the Philadelphia darters hall of fame and the national hall of fame.
The most devastating loss I ever had was when Tony Money beat me in the finals of the US Open. I’d come in second I don’t know how many times and I really wanted to win this one. I wired my out shot from 108 and Tony took out a 68 to beat me. I was really disappointed but we did win $3300 in that tournament. Both tournaments I won out in California, $1000 each I only got $250 out of each of them from splitting with my partners. This is what we did then. Here’s another thing, if you’re going to these tournaments and if you don’t win you’re not making your expenses, and you have a family to take of, it’s quite difficult for Americans to be top players. Most of the dart players come from lower income neighborhoods and can’t afford going to tournaments. It’s very, very tough.
I did not play in a league this year, 2003. It’s getting hard to get up and go out and play, then get home at midnight and all. I try to play every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.
When Helen Scheerbaum wants to practice she calls me. She’s very, very competitive and wins a lot of games. She never quits. She doesn’t give you an inch either. I have to play at my best against her. Helen is also a good cricket player.
Everybody says I can remember every shot I every made in every tournament. I can remember a lot of them but not all of them.
I’m at the point in my life where I have a reputation in darts and even when I’m playing a younger player I’m still trying to win. When I give the game up it’ll be another thing but I’m still a competitive dart shooter. You come in to play me you’re going to be in a game, especially on my board. Now I just play the game for fun, I’ve had my day in the sun, I don’t need it anymore. I don’t want to play for money anymore. I don’t know if I can take the pressure, because I tire, you see. What’s the old saying, fatigue makes a coward of us all? My attitude is if you can play better than me, that’s all right, but I don’t like to play my friends for money.
I owe a lot to the game of darts. What ever notoriety I may have achieved, the places I’ve been to and the people I’ve met could never have been possible if my dad hadn’t shown me how to play this game. I’m forever grateful.”
Interviewed May 2003
Career base: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Won over 20 singles events in tournaments across the country. Among those wins were back to back wins in the Cleveland Extravaganza in 1974 and 1975;
There was a unique singles event in Baltimore Maryland where all players threw 102 darts for an average and I won just nipping “Primrose” Pete Polinski;
The Ultimate Challenge II, Hacienda Hotel, Las Vegas which had the largest singles payout in America, to that time;
Won over 20 mixed doubles with, still “The First Lady of Darts” in America, Helen Scheerbaum;
Competed three times in England as a representative of America.
“Naturally I started with American darts and I threw that in my basement at home when I was around 17 or 18 years old, that would be 1949 to 1950. My father used to play with friends in our basement and he was fairly good player and, as a lot of those players used to do in those days, he had a habit of leaping toward the board and going all the way up to the board with the third dart. That created a lot of good natured problems and people would say, we’re going to have to put a case of beer down in front of you because you’re not allowed to run up. We had a lot of well known shooters in the Philadelphia area, that were very, very good players with their first two darts, who also felt the need of running up the third dart to give them more confidence.
I started getting adept at the American game as an 17 – 18 year older, and was going around trying to entice other people into a game of darts, which the group of people I traveled with did at that time. I played all over South Philadelphia, where I was born and raised, and after I came out of the service I continued to have a strong interest in darts.
I played on a team for a guy named Eddie Faye, who owned a tavern and was one of the top names of that time. Richie Ulmer, Eddie Hall, Tommy Eagan, Eddie Faye were the guys on the team I played on. We won the championship of the Northeast Community Dart League, which a lot of known players were in, like Al Lippman, Ray Fischer and Bob Theide.
I got wide experience in the Northeast dart league and stayed there for many years. I gave darts up for a few years and then came back again. I was very friendly with Al Lippman and Al and I teamed as doubles partners in American darts for many years against other doubles teams who were interested in betting..
The first English dart tournaments that we could go to around the Philadelphia area, were in the early seventies, in New York. Ray Fischer and Al used to go to them and Al said, Frank, why don’t you go, you’re an excellent player. I said, well, I don’t know, you have to go away for the weekend, I don’t think that’s going to be very nice, you go away on Friday and you’re gone for the whole week end. Well, they enticed me for years, then in 1973, we had the first tournament here in Philadelphia, sponsored by Schmidt’s beer, up on Roosevelt Boulevard. I had about a month’s practice and, of course, the only thing I had to do was learn the numbers, the distance didn’t bother me even though the English board is five inches higher. I quickly adapted to that, but learning your numbers took a lot longer than that.
I have my own theory on developing a stroke. You see people throwing very awkwardly and never see the same release. I had a nice release in American darts and I thought it was important. I took that same release right into English darts.
You are not aiming your dart, you are focusing in on your target. I would bring the dart back quite far, beside my head, and I knew that if I was getting over anxious in certain situations, if I leaned too far forward, and I’m coming back with my draw wrong the dart would catch the edge of my ear, or it would catch my cheek, or the edge of my glasses, but when I’m lined up the way it was best for me to shoot, I wouldn’t touch anything. I started wearing glasses when I was about 45, but it didn’t make any difference to my stroke, because of the way it was. Another thing, an unorthodox release affects your stamina. I always thought the guy who had the most comfortable release was going to be able to conserve some stamina for Saturday and Sunday and their arm would not get as tired. An awkward stance and release, somewhere along the line affects the person and they are not themselves. Maybe it’s in the top eight, or top four or whatever. So I think anybody coming into the game should concentrate on the proper stance and release.
Also, make sure you have a great pair of shoes on. I could never shoot flat footed, that would tire you out. We all know that a good shoe makes it easier to walk, a bartender or waitress that walks all day has to have a proper shoe. So I would make sure my feet were very, very comfortable. My game, even in the American game was stamina. One time Al Lippman and I had a match, in Norm Findley’s place, that went on for eight hours and were playing for $10 per one inning game, which was pretty high stakes for that time. I got a victory out of that match, Al was up $100 on me and I got back and it went like that. Then at two am in the morning and I ended up with about $40 ahead. This is when Al and I decided to team up. I liked Al’s darts, he liked mine and we had confidence in each other’s game.
In November of 1973, when I started English darts I thought about using the wooden darts, but everyone seemed not to be using them, even Al Lippman, so I tried using an inexpensive $10 English dart. By the time I attended my first tournament in Cleveland, around April I’d had about five months experience with the English game and had that first set of darts. My first set after that was a 19 gram, brass dart with feather flights and I stayed with that for a long time, but I did switch to the plastic flight, after a while. Then I went to a 22 gram dart simply because I wanted a little more weight. I started using one I liked, with three ridges that seemed nice for me. That was the dart, with a couple of changes, that became my signature dart Fansteel produced for me. It came as 19, 22 and 25 gram models all in my style. That dart, at that time, was going for about $125 which was about what you’d pay for a set of golf clubs. I used a small aluminum shaft, made by Accudart, and a standard sized flight. I stayed with that dart combination, I didn’t make changes. I use them to this day.
The numbers really did come rapidly to me. I was able to figure out the combinations and so forth and that part was OK. I needed a little help in the beginning but in those days your partner would tell you, Frank you need such and such, but I usually subtracted the figures from what I had and I knew what the combination was for the darts I had in my hand. I tried to memorize combinations for numbers under 150, because you can go out from there. Of course you can go out from 170 on down too. So the numbers are a pretty important thing.
I used to think the three most important darts in a game were number seven, eight and nine, the third turn at the board. I used to tell guys there is nothing wrong with throwing sixty, you know, they will keep you in the game, you know steady darts. If the other guy threw a hundred or even a hundred forty, they might come back with a twenty six or something, and your two sixties would still have you in the game. Steady darts was my forte’, I always thought that I was consistent. I stayed away from bad darts. It was rare for me to throw under a forty, I thought there was nothing wrong with scoring sixty and who couldn’t put three darts in a single frame? That’s how I got to the third turn, those darts were rather important to me because many times those darts set you up for your out shot with the next turn, or at least you knew you were in the game. If you can come up with that big shot in that segment of the game, you’re in the hunt.
I used a gauge of fifteen darts, because if you can play your 501 game in fifteen darts you can play anybody in the country. Certainly you see guys going out on their twelfth or their eleventh dart but that’s when you’re really in the zone, or the top of the brackets of competitors. If you can stay around that fifteen dart game you can play with anyone.
When I say target, I mean the triple or double, I didn’t look at my dart or try to aim. I looked at the middle of where I wanted to hit, of course. I was probably a group dart player. The thing that differs from English dart players to American dart players is that we were used to moving around on the line. Once I got one dart in there I’d go over it or under it by aiming at the dart and moving over to let the dart land by the first one. I did the same thing in English darts, but you don’t see that in the good English players. When these guys do it, their three darts go one right after the other, boom right back there and they don’t break the continuity. If you’ll notice, American dart players stop between darts to decide where to place it. There may be players out there who try to aim the dart but I don’t think that’s what you need. Your hand and eye coordination is what you need and I find it very helpful to have that nice release.
The way I got my release set was that I didn’t move much. If you do a lot of moving around, with jerking motions while you’re throwing the dart you cause problems. Remember, we don’t have a very big target. I mean if you’re off a sixteenth of a inch it could cost you the game, so I always tried to keep my body as still as I could.
One thing I wish I had done was practice, but I found practicing difficult. I tried a few times but practice just wasn’t me. My game was where I thought I needed it, around that fifteen dart level so practice wasn’t for me. I was playing in leagues two nights a week and I was going away to tournaments on weekends, I went to twenty tournaments a year there for a while, and I thought that was enough. My practice was at tournaments and playing money matches.
When I was playing American darts my practice came from playing guys around where I was playing. I played in two leagues and I’d go out on Friday night also. On league nights we’d play after the league was over, too.
One of the problems in Philadelphia was trying to hold small tournaments in bars, like they did in California and in Boston. There were those little tournaments all over the place out there, for $500, $1000. If we tried that around Philadelphia no one would play in them because there were certain teams that would win and everybody was afraid to go against them.
In the Philadelphia American dart league I was playing with a guy named Jim Grady. He was a guy about 6’5″ and he knew where every game of darts was being played from New Jersey to Pottsville, Pennsylvania. I was around 23, 24 years old and we did very, very well. Jim would get in there and was very adept at getting a game started without being obnoxious. He had a lot of jokes he would tell and was a humorous guy and then he’d say, look we feel like playing some darts here and some of the people in the places knew Jim from before but he had this kid with him, me, and they’d think well, why not he has a young kid with him so we’ll have a chance. We traveled all over the area from Vineland in New Jersey to Pottsville up state and we were successful up there too.
There was a guy named John Gumbo, a big heavy set American darts shooter, well known around Philadelphia, and he was a guy who liked to hustle darts. He made a trip to Pottsville with us and we played a guy named Ed Guinther, who was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Jim and I were playing very well with 52s and 53s but this Guinther was up around 55 all the time. We played for a while and we lost around $480 and decided to quit when it was time for his bar to close. Ed Guinther decided he owed us a drink and we went to another place, after he closed his bar. It happens that John Gumbo had another $100 on him so we go to the other bar and Guinther was drinking his beers and shots and Jim Grady, being the hustler he was, he talked Guinther into playing me one inning games with no hockey line, which we played regularly in Philadelphia. And we started to play and went until seven in the morning and not only did we get our $480 back we emptied the cash register there and everybody else’s pockets because everybody up there would back Guinther. There had been other guys come up from Philadelphia, and had the same success as we did when they played the nine inning games. We wound up winning around $350 over the $480 we got back, and started to be concerned about being able to get out of there with the money. You can imagine how burned up these guys were in that bar. Not only Ed was loosing some money but these other guys lost too. So we made a quick exit.
Most matches happened because guys would approach me because they knew I liked to play for money, and other guys who were self promoters. They’d say, I’d like to see you and someone play against someone else. At that time we’d play best of 51, the first to win 26 games. Dan Valletto and I played Conrad Daniels and Ernie Rill and it ended up tied at 25 games each. This match had to have $5000 bet on it what with the side bets. All through the match we were alternating who was going first. When it became 25 to 25 Ernie Rill claimed it was their turn to go first but I didn’t want that, not give away three extra darts in that kind of game. It was ridicules that it wasn’t covered before the match, but it wasn’t. But Danny didn’t want to argue over it, and Conrad was letting Ernie be his spokesmen, so I reluctantly said OK. Let them go first. We lost the game and match.
I think money matches are a confidence builder for me and that helps in tournaments. There was more pressure in tournament play because a loss meant you were done for that event. I played with the same attitude as I did during league play when I was in a tournament, I wanted to play at my best. There have been players who really raised their game during money matches over what they would do in league.
I had good matches with Ray Fischer as a partner. We had a great match over in Trenton, in a place called Vets Tavern, which Conrad Daniels later bought. On back to back Fridays, Ray Fischer and I played Conrad Daniels and Bob Theide in English darts and Ray and I won both matches. Rosalee, Conrad’s wife, blamed Bob Theide for loosing, but that’s what you’d expect from someone’s wife, right?
I hated loosing, but I didn’t make a big deal out of it. If I threw three bad darts, the score keeper would hear my displeasure as I was retrieving my darts but the people in back couldn’t hear anything. The score keeper might get a little smile on his face because he found it amusing, but I didn’t. After the game was over, when I lost a game in the top 16, or top eight, or something like that I shook the guys hand and I had to leave the room for a while, and just gather myself together. I used to pride myself on keeping my composure when I’d loose a tough leg of a match. I new it was important because I knew there was enough thoughts that go through a dart shooter’s mind that you can’t keep out, like going for an out shot, that if you let a tough loss prey on your mind, you’d almost be wasting your time to play that next leg. I tried not to let it interfere. I wasn’t a hot tempered guy out there.
I liked that you could meet all kinds of people at English dart tournaments. I was used to a certain type of people who played American darts, who were in their element when they were playing around home. But when you played English darts in tournaments you never knew who you were playing against. It could be some high powered executive from a company who stopped in a bar someplace and said, this is my kind of game. I love the mathematics in the game. That’s something that turned my mind around, I mean, I didn’t think I would enjoy the English game but it is so much a more interesting game than American darts. Plus it gives a guy a chance in tournament play. Something that would never happen in American darts. A novice could knock a top player out of a tournament, by winning two out of three games, where if you were playing American darts you knew that, we’re talking about fifty average shooters now, you could ride all the way to another fifty shooter before you had to worry about loosing. A person who averaged forty two or forty five wasn’t going to beat you, because the highest the guy is going to hit is what you average, so he could never do it. But, put that same effort into the English game and a nine score in American becomes a ton eighty in English, and that puts a guy in the game. Then, in the English game you have to come down to a double, and even the good shooters stumble on the double at times, for one reason or another. In American darts that never made a difference, if you could throw a forty eight or forty nine there would only be a handful of guys who were capable of doing that.
In the English tournament, what makes it interesting, you’ve got to be ready. When you get called in that first round, which I always thought was one of the toughest because you haven’t been out there, you’re not yourself yet, it’s 10:15 or 10:30 in the morning, and you really have to concentrate, because you can easily be knocked off. Get that round under your belt, then you’re relaxing a little bit and you practice a little and you’re more ready for the next round. I used to tell people who would come up to me, look you know how nervous you are in that first round, you think the good shooters are any less nervous than you are that first round? Darts is a game where everybody knows you have to focus your concentration on that game, and get by it, I’m as nervous as the next guy in that first round. But, nerves are a good thing, like in making a presentation in sales, if you’re not nervous there is something wrong. Unless, in darts, you’re playing someone whose throwing arm is falling off, you need to be concerned. In our game of English darts anybody can knock you out of that match so, sure nerves play a part, it’s just being able to control those nerves, and that’s what I think is important. Joe Baltadonis used to kid me about my routine to control my nerves. Even if I was up late the night before, I made it a point get up three hours before starting time of the first round. In those days the first round usually started at ten O’clock. I didn’t want to get out of bed, take a quick shower and start throwing darts. I wanted to be up on my feet for those three hours, it was like it was my normal work day and I did that in every tournament I went to. I had to have a full breakfast and a big glass of milk and so forth then I was ready to go on Saturday morning.
I knew I had a decent shot at winning every tournament I went to. But everybody knows, if you are drinking during the day, if you reach over that certain point, you don’t realize it yourself, but you can go over the edge a little bit and still think you can do it, but we all know you can’t. Drinking doesn’t hurt you in the early part of the day, and I used to pace myself. I was a Granddad bourbon kind of guy and I would sip a drink because I didn’t want to get over the limit. I thought stamina was the biggest part of my forte’ and I was going to be around all day so I was careful. We always had a couple of events and if you’re in both of them you’re going to be around late in the day so you needed to control the drinking. I learned about having a little bar of candy and that would give you a sugar boost late in the day, and I tried to pick myself up that way.
The waiting period between games was difficult, I was always on my feet, on the floor. Some guys, when they had an idea of when their next match would be called, weren’t even on the floor. Tournaments can run late into the next morning, like 1 to 2 am and food was an issue. If you eat too much it will make you uncomfortable or even sleepy. I’d slip in a hot dog or something like that and make that suffice. You also need some food, especially if you are going to be drinking.
Fred Berstecker, my first partner, and I thought that some mind games sort of relaxed us and we were very adept at this, when we were playing doubles. If we got called against someone like Theide, we knew he would have a good partner and Fred would start it off with, now Bob I want you to take it a little easy on us. You know Frank getting a little older, so don’t embarrass him, keep him in the game. Make us look good out there. We did things like that. There was a guy from Laguna Beach in California, who was my friend, He used to tell me how he followed my career and stuff like that, and just before we began the singles finals, in Kansas City in 1985, he said he was going to kick my butt and I’d better get used to it. It was best of eleven games for the singles finals and he was trying to set me up like that, and this was the highest payout for a tournament. It was listed as $125,000, but that was dropped before it was actually held so we all knew it before hand. They changed the first place for singles from $20,000 to $8000. Dan Valletto, who was a very good friend of mine, had been this guy’s partner in doubles and he was doing some business with him like players do, they’d share certain percentages of wins, and Dan was rooting for this guy, but being the gentleman that he was he wouldn’t let me know that. Anyway we ended up tied at five games each, then I lead off the eleventh game with a 180 and win it. After the match I told him, I still have my butt. He said, I’ll see you at the bar.
The first time I went to England was for the Queen’s silver jubilee, in 1977, to play with Nick Verakul in doubles competition. Eight countries were represented and the tournament was to be televised over six weeks but the tournament itself took place in one day. I was elected by Tom Fleetwood to go to play doubles with Nick and Haviar Gopar was to play the singles. We did very, very well. We came in second and knocked off Eric Bristow and his partner Cliff Lazeranko in the semi finals, then lost to the Australians. We played on a stage in a large tavern restaurant and when you weren’t at the line you sat in a chair at the edge of the stage. we were on the double sixteen in the semi’s and I was on the line and when I heard a crash from behind me. Nick had fallen off the stage with his chair. I turned to see if Nick was all right and heard him say, from the floor, I’m OK Frank. The crowd must have thought I’d never be able to finish the shot, but I nailed it on the first dart to win the semi’s.
I went back home but four weeks later went back because we’d done so well. This time it was for singles competition. I think I finished in the top 32.
The last time I went to England was in 1981, and it was for the World Masters Tournament. I came in at the joint 17 level, as they call it, which was the top thirty two.
They played the best of nine sets of games. There were 265 entrants and 180 or so were from England.
I only played partners with three or four guys and I told everyone of them, I never want to be bad mouthed out there. I was very particular since I wouldn’t do that, and I didn’t want my partner doing that to me. I basically picked the partner that would be my partner all the time.
I teamed up with Fred Berstecker in 1973 – 1979. I knew him from American darts and Fred and I thought it would be nice for him to hook on to me so he was my first partner. We played together for at least seven years. I went to Cleveland in 1974 and won that year, and Fred and I also won the doubles. Then, again, I won the singles the following year and Fred and I came in second in the doubles. Fred and I played together well.
After I got sponsored by Fansteel, Joe Baltadonis became my partner.
I had a short relationship with Accudart but that wasn’t as good a sponsorship as what I received with Fansteel. The Accudart arrangement was a flat amount that we could use any way we wished. At the time there was me, Nicky Virachkul, and Ray Fischer being sponsored by Accudart. It wasn’t a signed contract and none of mine were. I got to be friendly with the people at Accudart and the parent company, Kulite. I have a business forms printing business and ended up doing forms for them for many years.
I went to Fansteel after I won my second tournament in Cleveland in 1975. I had a very unique relationship with Fansteel. When I started with them I was the only one being sponsored, we brought Joe Baltadonis in later, and they wanted me to wear their shirt with their logo on it, they made a signature dart for me, and paid all expenses, except for room costs and food, for attending tournaments. Basically they wanted someone who would be friendly to people on the floor who would come up and ask questions. My signature dart is no longer available, who would be interested the Frank Ennis dart now days? People always know who is current now.
I really enjoyed winning the 1985 tournament, in Kansas City and getting this ring I have. I didn’t wear it while I was playing because it bothered my throwing. Then winning the St. Patrick’s day tournament out in San Diego in 1987 was my last tournament win. I must have been almost 55 yrs old when I won that.
In my later years, the people who knew my style would comment, Frank you’re moving around up there and that’s not like you, you’re sort of jumping up there. To me that was important because I thought that movement wasn’t a good thing.
I decided to retire when started to think I wasn’t as effective as I thought I should have been. I didn’t have that drive anymore, and I still don’t have it. I don’t get that excited about it and it’s not fun when you throw a 21 and loose to a guy that shouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance to beat you. So I thought as far as tournament darts it was time to quit and now I don’t even play in the league. Every once in a while I’ll go over to the local tavern and play a few games with friends.”
Interviewed June 2003
Career base: Hamilton New Jersey
1970, Southern California Darts Association (SCDA) Grand: 1st – Doubles;
North American Open: 1st – doubles;
Far West Shootout: 1st – singles;
1971, North American Open: 1st – team;
SCDA Grand: 1st – Doubles, 1st – singles;
Far West Shootout: 2nd – singles, 1st – team;
1972, Tri-county Open: 1st – doubles; 2nd – singles; 3rd – team;
St. Patrick’s Open: 1st – singles;
Far West Shootout: 1st – doubles, 3rd – team;
1973, North American Open: 3rd – doubles; 3rd – team;
Schmidt’s Darting Classic: 1st – team;
St. Patrick’s Open: 1st – doubles;
1974, Schmidt’s Darting Classic: 1st – doubles;
Golden Gate Classic: 1st – doubles;
1975, Unicorn World Darts Championship eastern finals (Philadelphia): 1st – National Finals (NY, NY): 3rd;
Central Jersey Open (Colonial): 1st – singles; 3rd – doubles;
Brokers Open: 1st – singles, 3rd – doubles;
News of the World (England): Finalist;
Indoor League (England): 1st- singles;
Old Smuggler Open: 2nd luck of the draw doubles, 4th – singles;
Michigan Open: 1st – doubles, 2nd singles;
North American Open: 1st – singles, 3rd – team,
US Open: 1st – Singles, 2nd – team;
Cleveland Dart Extravaganza: 3rd – singles, 3rd – doubles;
1976, Brokers Open: 1st – singles,
Champion of Champions (Leeds, England): Semi- Finalist;
US Masters representative in England‘s World Master’s;
Elkdart Triple Crown Championship (London England): 2nd – singles;
North American Open: 1st – team, 2nd – doubles;
1977, North American Open: 4th – doubles;
US Open: 2nd – singles, 3rd – team;
Cleveland Dart Extravaganza: 1st – singles;
North Carolina Open: 2nd – singles, 1st – doubles, 1st – team;
Unicorn US Championship (eastern regional): 1st- singles;
Dallas Open: 2nd – singles, 1st – team, 2nd – doubles;
American Darts Organization All Star Team (eastern region): 1st;
World Cup I (London England): US Representative;
1978, Elkdart Nations Cup (England): 2nd – team (3 man with Nick Verachkul and Cam Melchiore);
World Masters (England): Top 8;
World Embassy Professional Darts Championship (first): top 32 (beat Eric Bristow, then world champion – 1st round, 6 games to 3 games);
Guinness Golden Dart Tournament (London, England): doubles with Cam Melchiore;
1979, St. Patrick’s San Diego Open: MVP of tournament;
RBDL: 1st – singles;
World Cup II (Las Vegas): 2nd – team, 4th – singles;
World Embassy Professional Darts Championship: top 32;
1980, British Pentathlon (Kent, England): Top 8;
World Team Match Play with Jerry Umberger and Nick Verachkul;
1981, New York Open: 1st – singles;
New Jersey Open: 1st – singles;
1982, New Jersey Open: 1st – singles;
Champion of Champions (Boston): 1st – singles;
1983, World Cup IV (Scotland);
Bulls eye Lucky Strike 301 Singles: 1st – singles;
Washington Pro Singles: 1st – team;
1984, Washington Open: 1st – singles;
New York Open: 1st – singles;
1985, Washington Pro Singles: 1st place.
“I lived in Princeton New Jersey from 1958 to 1964 and had a job tending bar part time in a place where college people went. There was an American dart board in there, and that was the only activity available so I started throwing darts for something to do in my off hours. I seemed to get good very quickly and I’ve always been an action guy, so I got to playing for drinks, then some money. It didn’t matter whether it was for fifty cents or a dollar; I loved to play when there was something at stake. Then I joined the National Guard during the Viet Nam thing and I got to playing a little bit at Fort Dix and played the best guy around, who was a beer salesman, and beat him for $150 one night. That was a lot of money in those days. That really got me hooked on thinking I was really good.
My then future wife and I both worked for the same company when I lived in Princeton and in 1964 they offered two transfers to California which we both accepted. After moving to California I looked for a place to play darts but could not find one. The day after my daughter was born some of the guys from where I worked took me out for some drinks and we walked into a tavern in Laguna Beach, which has just won the local championship, this was in English darts, which I’d never seen. There was only one board in the place and there about twenty of them, all playing darts. I had no idea how to play the game but asked if I could play anyway. They asked if I knew how, and I told them no, but they said throw some money in the pot and you can play. The winner was going to get a bottle of Chevas Regal. One of the guys was playing with American darts and used those. There was one guy who was telling what to shoot at and I blew them all off the board. They were all wondering, who the heck was this guy? They’d just won a championship I beat ‘em all. I hadn’t played in a while but going from the American game to the English game is very easy when you first do it, before you start to think about out shots, and what you are doing.
I played two or three years there then I dropped out for a while, my wife and I were in a workaholic thing at that time. Then, one of the guys from the team called to tell me there was going to be a tournament put on by some dart association and people from all over the states were going to come to this thing, and I had to go to it too. There were going to be prizes and the first prize was a black and white TV and I won the thing. Now darts became an ego thing. I played on a stage; I got my photo in the LA Times and all that stuff, so the ego thing started. I’d won the Far West Shoot-out, or the Laguna Open, or whatever it was called, which was the first tournament held in California, to my knowledge. I really got hooked because we found out the English darts was in more places than in California and there was a tournament in New York called the US Open, put on by Bob McLoed.
Then the concept of the North American Open started from there and was held in 1973, where we in California, were first exposed to the players from Philadelphia, who were supposed to be the best in the country. I thought I was the best player in English darts. I had played around the Philadelphia area when I lived in Princeton, but not with the people from Philly. I was the big favorite in California and I lost in the top sixteen or something like that. I watched Bob Theide play in that tournament, and he didn’t know his out shots. He had forty left and shot for a single eight to leave thirty two because someone had told him that was the double it was best to go out on. In the finals, when the other person had a double left he did that, instead of shooting for the double twenty. Bob won that tournament! It was absolutely amazing. The players from Philly dominated that tournament and were all playing with wooden darts.
Then, in 1975, I moved back to New Jersey, to Hamilton, where I still live. I played in the US Open that year and beat Nick Verachkul in the finals. That was the big start on my dart career. Black and White Scotch sponsored it, they wrote an article in Sports Illustrated magazine, with my picture and everything. That kind of thing sort of blows your mind, it was a big deal. That same year I went back and won the North American Open.
In 1973, I had a pencil thin, brass dart made for me that probably weighted 16 grams and I put a little, solid plastic flight on them. I used those until 1977. I found that tournament conditions were getting so that, with wind and such, you had to get to a heavier dart. I ended up with a twenty three to twenty five gram dart. I switched around trying different things thinking the dart would be a factor, but it didn’t. I tried different things to find out why different players used different things, but I never stayed with a particular dart. I always believed that you had to be on board with the transition of things and find what worked best for you. There were pencil thin darts made with tungsten that were 28 grams and you had to find what made them fly true for you. We checked the actual weight of darts against what they were said to weight and found up to two grams difference. My dart had more of a loop to it than the way the English players threw theirs. We looked at a dart’s flight in slow motion and found out the dart actually leaves your hand almost perpendicular to the floor, and then levels out in flight. I tried every kind of shaft, but ended up with a nylon shaft because it was more durable. I don’t think the dart made much difference in my play, even when I was experimenting like I did.
I watched basketball players shooting fouls and thought about the comparison to my dart stroke. I wondered why a great basket ball player stand at the line and bounce the ball a few times before he shoots it? These are the guys that are the best, the ones who do that. The ones who just go up there and throw it aren’t. I started a rhythm to my stroke by pumping my hand, slowly so I was already in my rhythm by the time I started to draw the dart back, rather than hold the dart out there and watch my hand shake. I saw that the biggest mistake that most dart players made was not enough extension of the arm, not enough follow though. I made sure my arm and hand ended up pointing at the target. When you watch a great basket ball player that is exactly the way they do. There was one guy, up in New Jersey who had a short follow through, a herky jerky motion and, he was a nice guy and all, but he was always a contributor when it came to playing for money. Because didn’t have any inconsistency. One time he’d throw a ton eighty and then a couple of thirties, or what ever it was. I stood in exactly the same position every time I shot a dart and repeated the same motion drawing the dart back so it just touched my cheek, every time, and that gave me tremendous consistency. I never thought I was blessed with a lot of talent but I was blessed with a little bit more ability to adjust to conditions.
Group shooting is for American darts and spot shooting is for English darts. I was definitely a spot shooter.
I made sure I held the dart the same way, in the same place every time. I even had a little piece of tape on the darts to mark the place for my fingers.
I hated loosing, just hated it. After a loss I’d shake their hand and think, all right, I’ll get you! I guess it was not as bad loosing to real good players as it was to poor players, and it wasn’t as hard on you when you truly got beat and somebody went up there and threw superior darts and you were still throwing good.
One thing I did during practice was discover what my dart was doing that particular throw. I looked for a pattern to get to a point where my tendencies were, which was to throw a little low, off the target, especially when I was in trouble, so I’d aim to compensate for hitting low. Most dart players have no concept of what their dart does. I would cover my dart board down in the basement with newspaper then throw at a place where a double or triple would be, then take the paper down and hold it up to light to where the holes told me my tendency was for the shot. Up or down, left or right then what are you going to do to correct that? I’d hold that paper up and think, OK now I’ve thrown fifty darts at the double four and where are my misses? There is always a pattern; your dart might be going side to side or up and down. Guaranteed there players who don’t have clue about where his darts are going, because he’s a natural talent at playing darts. I didn’t think I was a natural talent so I had to work on all these odds and ends.
I could get into tunnel vision to where, if I was looking at the triple twenty I could blow the size of that up to three or four times. When I was really focused and really on, I thought nothing else. I was playing in the finals of a tournament in California and the bleachers fell over and fifty people fell and crashed. I was asked afterward if that bothered me and I told them, I never heard it. At one point in my career all I saw was that one small target, not people walking around or talking or anything else. I practiced with a dog jumping around down in the basement and as far as I was concerned the dog didn’t exist. You have to do that in order to play good tournament darts.
I practiced probably a little every day but mostly I did a lot of experimenting, rather than practice. I’d play a true game, my favorite game was 301 double on double off because of the confidence I had in doubles. I knew, with out any doubt, that if I had three darts in my hands I was going to hit the double. I didn’t think the big score between the doubles was all that important. If I hit a couple of triple twenties and it was a little blocked, I’d play for the triple nineteen. Why loose a dart trying for a blocked shot when another inning is completely open? I’d be perfectly happy with a 139, those things never bothered me. I always played American bounce darts, try to get the best angle you could for a clear shot and if it wasn’t in the twenty then I’d find it in another inning. Rather than lose the dart into the one or five, I’d take the 19 if I missed that triple, and be ahead of the game. This became really important in a long money match where you had to be very, very consistent. That was the biggest asset to my game, being consistent and why I won money matches. I could loose four or five games and not worry about it because I knew, if I played my game the other player would have his ups and downs and I’d be ahead at the end.
I set up Fridays as my night for money matches and that was the best practice sessions. A tough match over three or fours hours where you have to do it, it’s a dollar and cents thing. You no longer feared people watching you, since as we all know this game can be very humbling and even very, very good players can look very, very bad at times. Good players can mess up on a double a whole bunch of times. I played John Lowe in the London Cup tournament, in 1976 or something like that, and in the second leg of our match he missed twelve shots on the double. I pressed him to the last game and almost won the thing. I played Rick Wobensmith in the US Open once and I missed all kinds of shots at a double until finally he took it out. There was another time I lost in the finals, after I missed a bunch of shots at a double, to a guy who never won another tournament. I wanted to commit suicide after those two tournaments.
One thing about getting really good is the level of play where you are. If you’re not stretched to a higher level, you don’t play to a higher level. Good play breeds good play. Good players make everyone around them better.
I thought about the game more than most players and that helped me become as good as I was. I fine tuned the things that most people don’t pay attention to. Like the shoes I wore. They were dress shoes with hard soles and always the same size edge and always laced tightly. The edge of a shoe can put you another ½ ” from the board. I locked my knee and stood a certain way. What ever I did I made sure I did it the same way every time. Darts is a repetition game but once you get past that part it becomes a mind game. It’s like throwing a 180. If you’ve never done it in practice, you probably will never do it competition, but once you do it in practice, it’ll come in competition.
My greatest coach was my wife in how she safe guarded me from drinking too much. I learned that three scotches was my limit and Rosalie made sure I didn’t have more than one every forty five minutes after the initial three. I always controlled my drinking, even in money matches. Frank Horvath was my best coach as far as how I was playing, if I was doing something different that was hurting my game.
There are a couple of different types of tournaments. The American style of tournament where there open entry is by far the most difficult because you never know when you’re going to play. I always stayed close to the scorer’s table so I could see when I would be called in ten or fifteen minutes so I could mentally prepare myself, other than that it was very difficult preparing yourself, or trying to peak. In addition to that you never knew how good a player you would be drawn against, it might be the worse player in the world or some one really good. I’d rather play some one good. I’ve probably gotten beaten by poor players more often than good ones because they’d play better than they had in their life just because it was me and they could go off and talk about how they beat me a leg or whatever.
A lot of the time I would pass the time at a tournament being sort of antisocial and being off by myself in a corner somewhere just trying to relax. Every so often I’d get up and throw a few just to stay warm and so forth.
I had a routine I went through to begin a match and no one was going to force me to go any faster than that. When they called my name on a board I knew I was going to throw 15 to 21 darts and I didn’t care if the other guy was there starring at me or what. I was going to do what I was going to do. I was a very slow methodical player and I played English darts with a rhythm that was different than 95% of the players. I went through a routine each and every time at the board and it was positioning my foot on the toe board so my arm was aligned with my target.
I’d get into gamesmanship on occasion. I wanted to control the tempo of the game. I was a methodical, slow player. I would ensure the position of my foot on the toe line, there were times when I actually marked the toe line with chalk. I always looked down at my foot, up at the board, fixed the dart the way I wanted it in my hand I would walk English dart players off the line when I retrieved my darts, after a turn, by walking straight back at them. I was deliberately a slow player, like when taking my darts from the board I wouldn’t take them all at once, I’d take them one at a time. Then there was a Frank Ennis trick, of brushing the board a little before strolling back off. There was another great advantage to being so slow, I was never a great mathematician even though I knew my out shot combinations, so I had loads of time to subtract the score between shots. I’ve seen some of the best counters in the game mess up because they were calculating so fast. A lot of players already had a turn planned out by considering what they would do with the last two darts if they missed with the first one, but I only calculated for one dart. There were times when I’d ask someone if they were leaning a little more than usual, or shooting the dart a little harder than they usually did, just to get a guy thinking more about how they were playing and there were certain players you could do that with more easily than others. There were times when, just before a match, when the player was chomping at the bit to play, I’d excuse myself and go to the bathroom and sit there for five minutes then come back. One guy did that to me, just as were ready to play he said, I have to go get a hot dog. When he came back I said I had to go to the bathroom and left for five minutes. People have tried those kinds of things with me but I blocked it out.
The best tournament I’ve played in my life was in 1977, when I won the Cleveland Extravaganza. I don’t think I lost a leg in the whole tournament and I honestly felt I could beat anyone. My partner Frank Horvath was there, and I told him I want good players every time, I don’t care who he his I’m blowing them off the board today. I felt that good about myself. It was one of those days that comes one in a thousand. Some times you get that feeling in a game or two but I’m talking about all day long. I felt that tournament was mine from the very first player I drew.
I went to England to play darts, probably fifteen times. I played in what was then the News of the World, world championship. Al Lippman had won the US Championship the year before that, and was the first American to play in it. After I lost in that tournament I spent at least two hours signing autographs. I thought, what happens when you win? I was proud, I had the USA shirt on and all that, you know?
I was invited back to England to play in the Champion of Champions tournament later in the same year. I was a 100 to 1 underdog in that and I had a couple drinks to calm me down, I was so nervous. These were the thirty two players from all over the world and except for the News of the World, I didn’t have any experience. In the first round I drew some kid who was the co-favorite to win the thing. Well, on my first shot I threw a 180 at him and when I walked back from the board I looked over and saw his hand shaking. Well, by that time I was calmed enough to just blow him off the board. I went down through the rest of my competition until I was in the finals, then I watched the match between the two people playing to be my opponent. One was Cliff Engles, the reigning Masters champion and the other was Allen Glazier, and I was thinking, well your run is over, these guys are going to destroy me. I was tinkled pink just to be there, I had no expectations of being in the finals. I did the same thing to Cliff in the finals that I did in the first round match, I started with 180, and Cliff literally fell apart. He was throwing threes and fives and I beat him. We were playing the best of five, 501. He said that was the most devastating loss of his career, and quit playing for a couple of years after that. There was a big article in the newspaper about my win and I was ranked third in the world, which is the highest ranking for an American I’m aware of, and I just went over there for one day? I was invited to play in another tournament a few days later but I said no thank, I had my heyday, and I’m out’a here, I’m going back home. I knew those guys were awesome. I was getting out of that country before those guys killed [me on the dart board].
I played a lot with a local guy named Frank Horvath. We practiced together, played money matches together and played league together so it was logical for us to play tournaments together. I disappointed other people who were better players than Frank, by not playing with them as partners, but that was the way it was. I did play with a lot of different partners, but I guess overall I’d say Frank Horvath was a good partner for me because I knew what I had to do with him, and even after a bad turn Frank would come up with a big shot when we needed it, he was that kind of guy.
After I moved back from California the Philly boys would come to a place named Joe T’s before I had my own place and we’d play matches there. If some one showed up you’d play, if they didn’t, you didn’t. Then I got tired of that because once you started playing, especially in my own place, and you were ahead, how could you quit with the guy’s money? So we ended up playing until the place closed. Then I thought, how do I know how much money they had? I had some money but was I risking what I had against very little? There was one guy from Philly who was famous for a fat roll of cash and we’d play but he really didn’t have much of a chance. I’d win maybe $500, but he’d be loosing more from the side bets he’d be taking with other people in the bar. It’s hard to tell a guy, it’s not your night, why not try again another night. So I started pre arranged matches where we knew what we were doing, no one had any excuses and knew what they were getting into. You knew you were mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared to loose $500 or $1000.
I remember some historical matches. Frank Horvath and I were playing Nikki and Joe Baltadonis. Now, on paper they should win. We got down to the last game, it was 25 games, to 25 games I’m sitting on 152 and Nikki was playing for double four. He hit single four, single two and Joe tells him to bust it, being afraid to be left with double one. Frank said, if you ever put out 152, now’s the time, well, I go up and finish the 152 to win a $1000 match. Nikki said, I will never, never bust a shot again. These were times when things like that were done. You didn’t expect someone to take out a 152.
I was sponsored by Kwiz darts after I won the 1975 US Open. Bob McLeod approached me with the offer of a signature dart with royalties, and other stuff and who wouldn’t want a dart with their name on it? So I became sponsored by them. The only other person with a dart named after them was Theide. The dart was not only sold here in the United States, it was sold around the world. I was a novelty. I was someone other than a British player who won something, so I was know around the world.
Bob McLoed got me a Marlboro commercial that was done in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and paid $1000 a day, plus all other expenses. It was done with the top female model from Spain and made for the European market because cigarettes were banned from American. It had a beautiful, sexy girl in a long white dress who posed as a customer, who walked into a beach bar to play darts where there was a guy sitting at the bar with a drink, reading a newspaper. I had to make three shots: one into the newspaper he was reading, the next into the coaster in front of him and the third into the bulls eye to show the woman was only messing with him and really was a good dart player.
I like having played on the US team which went to England a few times as a memory of my career. I went to England fifteen times and that was good too. I played in the inaugural World Embassy Championship, where there were only thirty two guys from around the world competing for the title. I played the number one player in the world, Eric Bristow, in the first round who I found liked to banter as much as me, but I wasn’t intimidated by him, I knew he was a better player than me, but I wouldn’t back down, I’d challenge him in a heart beat. He told me I’d better have a TV guide because I’d be watching television early that day. Well I smoked him off the board, six to three. I not only beat him, I beat him soundly. He remarked about that match in his book, saying he’d never underestimate me again (chuckle). That is a most memorable event, to beat the best player in the world.
I have a hard time going back playing and not being good. I don’t like playing at a mediocre level. I retired due to several things. My wife and I started a real estate business, I started playing golf, and I sold my bar. I got into a different social circle and my life style changed. I’m in two halls of fame: darts and real estate. Right now I play a lot of golf and enjoy it. I still love darts and when I retire I’ll probably do something with darts, but I don’t know what.”
Interviewed Oct. 2003
BALTADONIS, JOE (Bag-a-doughnuts)
Career base: Mt.Royal NJ (Philadelphia, PA suburb)
1971-72 US Open Champion
Member of 11 man US Team for England Vs US match in England.
Joe was the only US Player to win his match.
Did not play in the News of the World championship (no position was open for an American competitor at that time)
1973- US Open Champion runner up
Competed in the England Masters Tournament, in England, and finished second.
News of the World championship American position was taken by Al Lippman (US Champion)
1975- Member of US All Star Team in England Vs US Match in England
Record: Won every match.
Challenged the winner of the News of the World Championship, the challenge was not taken up by the World Champion but was accepted by the runner up to that title. I won.
“I think my best memory is of the banquet after the 1975 England Vs US match. Each player was introduced to the crowd and walked across the stage. I was the last American and received a standing ovation; it was as good as sex. The team that went to England was a hand picked team from everywhere, not just New Jersey and Philly. Bob McLeod organized it and there were people from Chicago, Washington DC and Ohio and all over.
I have to say, my wife, Rose, and my brother, Ed, really helped me win because going to tournaments, which were all on weekends, cost a lot of money and took me away from the business. My brother minded the business while I was away, which was tough pulling 16 hour shifts. Rose supported me and went to tournaments with me. She played a big part in my winning so much.
When I got to England in 1975 I went out to play in some of the Pubs and there was a poster that said “Beware of this American,” that had my name on it and a picture. That was a good feeling. I guess that came from all the guys I beat the last time I was there. The night after I played in the match [England Vs US] and challenged the World Champion I went to the place where everyone was and the guy that came in second in the world championship said he’d play me. I wasn’t wearing my regular shoes and had to find someone who wore size 10 ½ that would let me borrow them to play. Some guy was really nice and lent me his shoes. I won the match, best of three. After I’d won the match people ganged up around the stage and when I leaned over to sign an autograph for some girl she took my darts out of my shirt pocket and ran out with them. The cops caught her and brought them back but she almost got a souvenir.
I started playing when I was nine years old, in my father’s bar. I wasn’t allowed in the bar but had a dart board in my room and got some of the old darts from the bar to use. I used to shoot bulls eyes a lot and after a while I was allowed in the bar for one hour a day to play darts. I hated to loose. I got barred from playing because the men started arguing over who would get me for a partner. When I was 16 we moved to Mt. Royal and I started playing in bar Vs bar matches, there weren’t any leagues until later. This was American style darts, there wasn’t any such thing as English darts. Basically, I think I won because of the desire I had to win, at anything, even on the football field in high school. I hated to loose. That and I practiced a lot, sometimes ten – twelve hours a day, before I even went out to play darts in the evening. I had people who worked night work come in my bar at seven in the morning to play darts, that was they’re night time, and we didn’t have very many customers at that time of day, so I’d play with them. When they left there were guys come in at lunch time and they’d want to play, then there were the construction guys who quit early in the afternoon. When I was in high school I went to a place called the Cozy Corner, where the owner knew my dad and would let me in, I had to drink soda of course but somebody would always want to play for some kind of bet, not much, maybe ten cents, that was the price for a draught beer, or a quarter a game, but something. That sharpens your game, playing for something. I didn’t play for a lot of money until I got into English darts, then it got up as high a hundred dollars. We did pre set matches, but they were mostly set up by someone else and they’d call me to play. After the match if the looser wanted a rematch you’d make arrangements for that too. I played money matches because I liked to beat the guy. Of course while I’m playing I’m spending money at the bar and to come home with a couple of hundred extra dollars too was really good (chuckle, chuckle). Money matches made you concentrate harder because if you lose in a tournament you think, so what, it’s just another tournament and I’ll go to another one and do better. If you lose money it’s gone and sometimes when you play somebody they’d say, I’m not going to play you anymore and if you’d lost you couldn’t get your money back. To begin with I didn’t want to lose, then I didn’t want to lose the money, so it made me a better player. When we went to New York for tournaments we’d go out at night to find money games and Nick Verachkul had a place in Soho where players would all go. Me and Frank Ennis went one time and after a while we’d lost about a hundred or so and Frank called it a night but I decided to stay some more. They had a sign up list where people who wanted to play put up their initials and when your turn came you played who ever had won the game before that, sort of King of the Hill. There was a heater duct by the dart board and one of my darts fell into it. They had to take the duct apart to get the dart, which caused a commotion, but the best part was when I left that night. The bar tender asked me if I would take a check instead of the cash I had. All the players had been getting money from the cash register and the bar didn’t have any money left, I had it all. When I got back to the hotel room I pulled my shirt up and money fell out all over the place. My wife, Rose, made such a racket that Frank came from next door to see what was the matter. I told him, see I told you not to leave!
I had the determination to win and I just hated to loose. Then came the recognition from the people as I got better and started to win more. Getting a sponsorship inspired me to play well too, because you didn’t have to worry about the cost of going to tournaments and with the sponsor we had we got to keep what ever money we won.
Bob Theide got me interested in the English style darts. I toed the 7’3″ American dart line and it made it easier for me to move back to the 8′ English line. That’s what it was then, 8′. Later they moved it up to 7’9 3/4″. He put an English dart board back in the pool room and said, come on, give it a shot, so I did. I started playing the game but didn’t know what I was doing until Bob came down and showed me a little bit about how to play it. Then one day he told me they were playing for money in some places in New York and we could make out up there. So we went and they were playing everything counts games because they didn’t know anything either. We were knocking them dead when we found out they were going to hold an open tournament. Me, Bob & his wife and George Silberzahn went up there. George just went to see what English darts was and not to play, but ended up trying it anyway. I was just playing and kept winning and winning and winning and never got into the losers bracket and at the end of the evening I met Bob Thiede in the finals. Bob won the first game and kind of let me win the second game by helping me with my out shot. He told me what to shoot for, and every thing he told me to hit, I hit it. After that game he said, you’re on your own now. One of the players overheard him and told me he’d help me and he did, and Bob had 40 left when I took out 48 and won the thing. That kind of burned Bob up. People were picking me up and stuffing money in my pocket and everything else, and hugging me and all. It was a great thrill and even so, my buddy George Silberzahn, on the way home in the car, with Bob Thiede’s wife crying and all, leaned over and said, you don’t even know what you won do you? You don’t realize what you did! Well, I thought yea, I won a tournament but the next day I get a phone calls from a reporters from United Press and True magazine, and doing interviews where he asked me what kind of training I went through. They were trying to find out if I had a training regimen and how many hours a day I practiced and worked out, physical stuff. I told one guy from True magazine I quit my job to practice darts all day, like a joke, you know? It ended up printed in the magazine. I got a laugh at all that stuff.
At tournaments I used to drink a little to settle my nerves and calm down and I never ate before a match. My metabolism would make me want to take a nap if I ate. At a tournament, when you win a couple of matches and start to move up in the bracket your adrenaline would really start flowing and I’d think, I can’t lose now I’m getting close to the top. My darts got better and better.
As far as practice, Theide would hang a dart board on the hotel room door and I’d practice on that when we were at a tournament. I’d get down to the place where the tournament was going to be played way early. If the doors opened at 9:00 I’d be in there at 7:30 and practice on all the boards in all the rooms, just to make sure they were OK. When I was working in my bar at home I’d work the day shift and somebody would always come in and want to play, if there were three of them I’d get in to be the fourth so they wouldn’t leave for some other place. Then at night I’d go out to some other place to play and after they’d close we’d keep on playing, so I’d be playing practically all day. Sometimes I’d get home in time to open the bar, and when Mom came in I’d run up to change into my work clothes. I played all day and all night at lot.
Even when I practiced by myself I would shoot to a point where I got bored and would stop, because you’re not going to get any better, you’re going to get worse. When you practice with somebody else you won’t get bored. To sharpen up on double outs I timed myself to see how long it took to hit every double around the board, from the double one back around to the double 20 then finish with the double bull. I didn’t run back and forth, I just shot normally and the best I ever did was 15 minutes. I figured the center of the board would come. I didn’t learn to count and figure out shots because I didn’t need to. At tournaments there were always fans who’d ask if I wanted them to score for me and they’d help. In partner games my partner would help. Most of the time I’d hit so many tons and ton forties that I’d be so far ahead I could miss out shots and still have a couple of turns to go out. When I’d be a little off the 20 I’d switch to the 19 and score there.
The English dart game is fair because of the chance a weaker player has to beat a stronger player in 301. In American darts an exceptional player would play six, seven and eight around the board and the weaker player would only hit fives and fours. They had no chance. So in that way the English game is more fair.
My bar, the Mt. Royal Inn, became the Mecca of darts in southern New Jersey because I think some people wanted to learn about darts and others wanted to knock me off my pedestal. Even though I wasn’t a really good teacher of darts people would ask me how to play and I’d show them, like they would hold the dart wrong, or have the wrong leg out and stuff like that. The Mt. Royal Inn became the place to learn darts or be in a dart league, and stayed that way. We started the South Jersey English Dart League. We held some luck of the draw tournaments, and that helped too. George Silberzahn played in my place until the league started but we split the good players up to other teams that were starting. He became the President of the league to help it get going. Darts has been really good for business.
To show them this new English dart game, me and Rick Wobensmith went to the American dart league meeting with an English dart board stand, and all, but they said that game would never get anywhere. Now look, American darts is hardly around. But, all darts is not what it used to be either.
The heyday of darts was when I first started, there were fancy affairs held at the end of a season where trophies were handed out for different things. They recognized people for different things, like best player, most improved player, winning team and thing like that. It seemed like your chest would pop out when you were called up for high average and things like that. There would be anywhere from 300 to 400 people there and everybody got dressed up, it was like going to a wedding, everybody was in suits and ties, all the women got corsages and there was live music and it was in a nice place. There were door prizes of TV sets and microwave ovens and things like that. The banquet was a big thing that everyone looked forward too. It was almost like that was the reason for the league, sometimes. It was all fun and everybody would visit from table to table. Of course there were politics of trying to coax a player to leave a team and come to your team, but it was all in good sport. There used to be dress codes, too, before they started wearing ripped clothes and sneakers and that stuff. Shoes affect how I play. I play better in a dress shoe, with a heel, than in sneakers.
Going to tournaments was like one big happy party and there were no fights or anything like that, even with some people drinking too much and the competition. The closest I ever came to fisticuffs was in Chicago, but nothing came of it, except the next morning I found dead flowers hanging from my hotel door knob. Nobody could figure out how I could play so much better the more I drank, but I did. Not many people could tell though because I wasn’t a drunk, like those guys that stagger around and get loud and nasty, you know? DUI laws have hurt darts. We need to drive to get other bars and cops will notice a car that has been sitting outside a bar all night, then figure the person must be drunk if they spent the whole night in the bar. I have one guy that drinks water all night, until after the league is over, and then he’ll have a couple of beers before he leaves. Now there aren’t as many bars with teams as there used to be. A lot of places have more than one team to cut down on driving.
That first round in a tournament everybody is nervous and I’ve seen a lot of players knocked out in that round, including me. You draw someone you’ve never heard of from St. Louis or somewhere and think, oh boy I didn’t draw somebody tough then the next thing you know you’re out and wondering what happened. I didn’t think there were any good players from anywhere but certain parts of the country that I knew about and when somebody did show up you weren’t ready. Your first match is a tough one. I never ate because I was too nervous. I think if I ate I would have thrown it all up. There was a guy named Hughie O’Neal from Philly that seemed to draw really tough people in the first round every time he went to a tournament. He told me he wanted to go to at least one tournament where he could get past the National Anthem before he was knocked out.
I think being sponsored hurt my game. I was a pro player for Laser/Fansteel darts. My signature dart was the diamond back 21 and 24 gram ones, I called it the Snake. I made a mistake with the darts I picked for my signature darts. I should have gone right to tungsten, instead of brass. I didn’t think people would put out $75 – $100 dollars for a set of darts, but would buy brass darts for $25 – $30 and I found out they would after I switched to my “snake” tungsten darts, but that was kind of too late.
The sponsorship was going on nine years and I could kind of see the handwriting on the wall when Fansteel sold out to Laser darts. Frank Ennis and I were the original team members and we had travel and room paid. I was told I didn’t have to win to be on the sponsor’s team but was expected to be like a salesman, and dress right, and spend time with kids at tournaments so they would buy Fansteel darts. So I didn’t have to win and I think that took some of that killer instinct away. I used to do trick shots like shooting cigarettes out of people’s mouth at tournaments, too. My best trick was shooting a dime off a person’s tongue but I didn’t do that much. Laser darts was going to get people from their own community, Chicago, and instead of calling me and Frank Ennis, they called a guy from Canada and a guy from Chicago. I didn’t do as well as I might have which left the door open for guys who were doing better to suggest to the sponsor they should be tried in place of me or Frank.
I tried to set the pace of a match when I played. I shot in a rhythm and wanted to force the other guy to go off his darts by forcing him to throw at my pace. I heard people say, I got wise to Baltadonis, slow him down, because when somebody slowed me down I got off my darts. I’d stand there waiting to shoot thinking, come on, come on, throw the dart and then I’d try to get in my rhythm and I’d mess myself up. Like Conrad Daniels. I’d take about eight seconds to throw my darts and he’d take maybe 20 seconds. Even when we played as partners he’d drive me nuts.
We you get knocked out of a tournament it’s a real downer, you know? A bummer. Especially when you’re playing well and the other guy is just a bit better at that time. Then you have to wait until the next year to do better. You think about how you lost, did I not try hard enough or how did he get ahead of me, things like that. Another bad thing is when someone you’re with tells you to shoot at something you don’t want to, and you do it anyway. Because of coming from playing American darts I’d play for 51 with a single and double 17, or 54 with a single and double 18 and I’d make it, but later I was told to go for an 11 then double 20 and things like that. That’s when you want to blame the loss on them.
You have to really like darts to be successful at it and you have to play it to understand it and love it. The game is really fair, too!
There has to be chemistry between partners. When George Silberzahn and I were partners nether one of us ever blamed the other for a loss, or a win, it was a team thing, and we never had to talk about that, it just was. But we seemed to be bridesmaids, never brides, for some reason, and couldn’t get that “big one.” I got so I’d try to set my partner up for his best out shot and my partner would set me up for mine. Like Frank Ennis liked the double 20 and I liked the double 16. Sometimes Frank Ennis would leave me on double 20 but that was because I could hit the double ten without a problem since it’s in the same location on the board as the double 16.
Now I just play in the league, I have four teams that play out of my bar. I have to open at six in the morning, which means I have to get up at four, and that keeps me from playing as much as I would like. That plus I’m getting up in age. I think the last tournament I played in was in Virginia Beach in about 1998, 1997, something like that. I lost the sponsorship, and my wife got cancer so that put a damper on the traveling, I’d like to play more, but I’m not practicing anymore and my game’s down, so it would be more or less a waste of time to go. I haven’t lost interest in the game, but you think you can still do it when you can’t. I’ll never quit the game, just taper off.
If there is something I’d tell anyone who is thinking about getting into darts it would be: you have to love the game and you have to practice, if you practice and you aren’t getting any better and you get whipped all the time, hang ‘em up!!”
Interviewed Nov. 2003