Scheerbaum, Helen

Helen Scheerbaum

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

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