Nicoll-Jennings, Julie

Julie Nicoll- Jennings

Career base: Dayton Ohio

 

Accomplishments:

“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

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