Cleveland Darter Club

Cleveland Darter Club (CDC)

Contribution by Scott Madis- 2004

I’m the Executive Director of the CDC full time; that’s my job. I’ve worked here since October, 1988. I guess the job description is glorified janitor! When I started I was working around eighty hours a week. I didn’t officially get the title until late 1989. I was only going to be working for five days and was just filling in for the Secretary who had left. Five days turned into two weeks, then turned into a month and I’m still here. I know I’ve done a lot things right and I’m proud of that. I affected a lot of changes. I wish things were better for organized darts – everywhere. I think they will get better but I have some regrets.

We are officially The Cleveland Darter Club, an Ohio non-profit corporation, 501c(4) status and we’ve been around since 1969. We are based in Cleveland Ohio and right now there are only 64 – 65 teams in the summer. In fall and winter we’re doing well if we can get 200 teams and in the heyday we had twice as many teams in the summer and fall/ winter. That would be around a little over 400 summer players, and 1,200 to 1,400 in the fall and winter. I periodically do a report to see how members come and go. Prior to 1989 the policy the club had was to purge the roll of people who hadn’t renewed their membership. If you let your membership lapse for two years you were removed. Well, after being here less than a year I had people coming in with CDC membership numbers that didn’t exist in the database. We were entering people who were already in the league so we needed to stop purging membership records. Now we have over 16,000 people who are members of the CDC. I was able to track them coming back and for quite some time it looked like a significant number of those who quit would come back after three years but things have changed dramatically in the last five years. Just because of the state of darts in the country I believe.

More people are playing darts than ever before and we know this to be true. This is evidenced by going to your local Sears store or you can go to Kmart or Walmart or JC Pennys and seeing a bristle board on the shelf. And you can buy a decent set of darts. Fifteen years ago that was unheard of. You couldn’t go to Kmart and see anything but one of those paper boards. Those stores do not take up valuable shelf space with items that are going to sit there and gather dust. They stock inventory that is selling and consistently sells and they would not have darts on their shelves if people weren’t buying them. We know that people are playing darts, or at least buying them more than ever. We also know that people are not playing in leagues more than ever. We know this to be true because every dart association in the country that’s been around for fifteen or twenty years is less than half the size it was. The Cleveland Darter Club certainly is less than half the size it was in the early 90’s. Now there’s a lot of new leagues, there’s small ones everywhere, and that’s great, but the big power house leagues don’t have the size they used to. They haven’t been replaced; people just aren’t playing in them like they used to. If people are not playing then what’s the problem? Well, we call our members every season – there’s three seasons each year and we call teams that don’t renew to play and ask them – hey, why didn’t you come back? And that’s hundreds of phone calls. We rarely get someone saying they were dissatisfied with darts itself. The primary answer is family and job commitments. The new reason that has come up in the last five years is, they can’t spend the amount of time in a bar that they used to. Not because they don’t like the bars. People can not spend two or three hours in a bar and drink adult beverages and expect to go home and not be at risk for being cited for driving under the influence of alcohol. Liquor laws in this state as well as almost every other state are very strict now. It is a money maker for municipalities and it’s also politically correct for politicians to pass legislation that is very strict and harsh. Judges are congratulated and reelected, the ones who are tough on what they perceive to be “drunk drivers”. But people are also suffering because of this. The economy is suffering. Hundreds of businesses, bars, they are run by people, families, they’re going under. In this county, Cuyahoga County, it has more liquor permits than any other in the state of Ohio and it is considerably less than what it was twenty years ago. Basically what I’m getting at is, right now we think of the home of league darts as the taverns. It’s a tavern sport and the players, the league players, they are not willing or able to – they’re afraid to go to the home of darts, so to speak, and spend two or three hours playing a league match.

We rent office space for a club house. We’ve moved four times since 1981, of those four times we’ve moved twice since 2000.

We call ourselves the Greater Cleveland area. Greater Cleveland is pretty much Cuyahoga County, the largest county in Ohio, but our “territory” is spread out a little bit into two neighboring counties.

The most common question that people who don’t play darts ask is what’s the typical player like. I don’t think there is anything typical about the average “large” dart organization – but if it’s a small league they might be all boy scouts or military or something like that. But when you get to a league our size, thousands of people, I don’t think you can draw a straight line on the occupation/ background thing other than they’re outgoing, gregarious. You can put all kinds of adjectives on that: social, fun-seeking, recreational. You certainly couldn’t say they are all sportsmen, because the average one may not be a sportsman. He may not play any other sport except darts and they may just watch football. They may be athletes. There is no other line on the chart that delineates them from any person you might see driving down the road. Their economics, their social background , their heritage, hobbies. They are so diverse. We used to do a format of our news letter in a tabloid-style that if you opened it up it would be maybe one and a half by two and a half feet and I’d print in maybe an eight-point typeface, I would export the occupation field from our membership data base and you could look at this big page full of company names and jobs and figure, well, what is the average darter. But you’d never be able to identify that. The average age right now is 36 ½ and when I first did that little routine it was 33. So in twelve years the average darter’s age has gone up three years.

Our by laws, back in the early eighties, called for thirteen board members. That shrank down to eleven and then that went down to nine and it is currently nine. The reason it kept shrinking was that fewer people were running or wanting to be on the board. So after a while when you had six open seats people didn’t think it looked good. Right now we have five board members who hold the standard offices of President, Vice President, Recording Secretary, and Treasurer. The rest are just board members at large. We have league Directors and all the other assorted committee Chairs: golf outing, tournament trails, all star team, other tournaments, Darthead newsletter, rules, by laws, planning, finance. There is considerable crossover of Board members but there are also people who are not on the Board who are on committees. None of these people are paid, although we would like to see the league Directors paid some day because it is a job – but so far, no. The old school or old guard doesn’t openly accept paying people for jobs that have been done gratis. Traditional ways of doing things are still more popular.

We are a charter member of the American Darts Organization. I couldn’t tell you why we joined originally because I wasn’t around then, but Charlie Andracchio, who has CDC Number Five, was one of our first Presidents. I believe he was with Tom Fleetwood up in some pool hall in Detroit when the notion of a national organization came up and I believe that’s how we go into it from Day One.

We have four leagues and periodically, if there are enough teams, we have a handicap league on Thursdays. We weight them according to their win/ loss record and they give up marks or points to a player of lesser ranking. Over the years we’ve run youth leagues twice, since I’ve been here. The average duration of a youth league is about two years. There was one that lasted four or five years and the reason it disbanded was because the kids grew up and that’s what happens to just about all of them – the youth leagues, that is – all the kids grow up! The members who are avidly into darts get their children into darts and when their kids grow up they don’t have an interest in the youth league anymore.

We’re making another stab at building relationships with other leagues but for the most part they are under new management from what they were five/ ten years ago – and that may make things easier once we gather around “the table”. Our club is sort of the dinosaur in our area.

We have four fees that provide income. Membership fees for bars are $50 per year and $25 for members. Our year is from September 1 to August 31. We also have a $15 team registration fee and then we have weekly fees that amount to $24 per week. We do alot of raffles to raise money; 50/50, and raffles for various prizes, sports tickets, entertainment stuff, we sell entertainment books, spaghetti dinner, a night at the races.

I believe our league rules are ten pages and the by laws I believe are thirteen pages. Our rules have been around so long that, periodically, I’ll go across the web and I’ll look at other people’s rules and see the same text and it’s just too much of a coincidence that somebody talks the same way so I know they got it from somebody else who got it from somebody else and it ultimately came back to us because we’ve been around longer than just about all of them.

Eligibility rules are probably the most difficult ones for people to understand: whether their memberships are paid or not.

Another rule that is hard for some of the veteran players is infractions of the toe line. Our rule is that the dart has to be released before you cross the plain of the toe line and that’s a little difficult with these jumpers. Apparently they’ll jump across the toe line. I get these complaints that ask, “Why is this guy allowed to cross the line while he’s throwing the dart?”. And I say, “Well you’d almost need a freeze frame camera to see whether he’s actually released the dart when leaping across the line.” Then it’s: “Well we’re pretty sure he’s doing that.” And then I’ll ask them, “Well do you really care? ‘Cause if this guy’s jumping in the air when he’s throwing the dart is he really hitting anything to begin with?” If you could get the other team to all jump when they throw their darts you’d be ahead of the game, you know? And that usually pacifies them.

I don’t think we can successfully legislate and enforce league rules without the cooperation of the average player out there. If your rules are not clear and concise enough for the average player to understand them they are not going to able to enforce them for you. They are the ones ‘out there’ on league night, and if they don’t know what is right or wrong and they see the other team doing it then they can’t say, Hey – you’re not allowed to do that, it says in the rules. If you have a huge book of rules, which I think ours is a little too lengthy, and they’re not simple rules that people understand then they can not enforce them. And when I say enforce them I mean stop the match and say you can or can not do this. You risk the argument of: “Well what do you mean I can’t do this, it’s not in the rules.” “Well show it to me.” And then if they can’t find it in the rules on league night that’s sometimes difficult. Leafing through a rule book to find something to prove whether you can or can’t do it. And then you get into the interpretation part of it, so rules have to be written very simple and made such that they don’t lose the enjoyment of the game through a mass of legislative text. Our most successful way of enforcing, especially league ineligibility, for instance, is to publish as much player information as we can; rosters & eligibility. I don’t know how other leagues handle ineligible players. Almost every league has a membership fee and if you have a membership fee for players it’s not fair to have members on one team not current on their dues and still playing the game and getting the same benefits. Most leagues have a penalty for having players who aren’t current with the dues but how do they know who is or isn’t current, or who is or isn’t playing? Do they go through every score sheet? See, in a large league that is darn near impossible – that type of enforcement. We’re just like the IRS in that respect. The leagues are the tax man and they can’t operate without the revenue. So if there are people playing in those leagues who are getting away with not paying those fees then they are doing harm to the league itself. And they damage the credibility of the league if you’re playing on a team and being straight up and here’s another team that doesn’t pay their fees and never get caught. How do leagues go about catching them? Obviously they have to use a computer. They “check the box” and input the financial data. Then do some kind of query to pull out all the players who are not current and then publish them or penalize that team. But then the league administrator is relying on that team captain and the problem with that is that if you are the captain and you are not paying your team’s fees, you’re probably not reading your weekly standings or newsletter either! You’re irresponsible. So for the league to depend on the irresponsible person to do something responsible is not logical.

What we’ve done is come full circle. We used to allow ineligible players to be on teams and then we just penalized them, and we kept penalizing them -week after week. And on their standing sheet we’d print their roster each week and we put dollar signs next to player names whose membership fees aren’t current so they’d get basically a little statement each week telling them what they were being penalized for. Well, it all sounded real slick and there was some programming involved and I was very proud of this and I thought it solved all the problems. But it didn’t. We’d go week after week and after fourteen weeks would go by we’d have a team call up and say, “Hhey, we got penalized all these points! what happened there?” They never read the material we sent them, and were oblivious to the fact that they were being penalized. Sometimes we’d make calls to them and tell them they had ineligible players. And then they’d claim they didn’t get the message. Or there’s always, “Oh, I didn’t get it in the mail”, or, “The check’s in the mail”. Now we just give them three weeks to pay their membership fees and after that we remove them from the roster. And we publish them on the weekly standings so, not the irresponsible captain, but all the other players in the league know “that guy’s not an eligible player”. We publish the team they are on so everybody knows that when they play that team, and see that guy playing, they’re getting forfeit points for the match. So that’s what I’m saying, you make it simple and concise so the populace knows and then they can enforce the rules on their own. If you can design it so it’s almost a turnkey operation you are much better off in the long run.

As far as the bars. I traveled around extensively when I first started here, and visited Chicago six times in less than two years. They were very helpful to me. One of the major differences between Chicago and Cleveland was that we are a money league. We had significant weekly fees paid in and we paid out significant cash prizes. On the other side of the coin you had the Minute Man Dart league where the members didn’t pay any fees; the bars did. In our club when we first started out teams were responsible for paying their fees. Well, now because the bar business is so tough, getting people to stay in the bar for any amount of time is difficult. So leagues of any kind are their lifeblood. If you own a bar you have to have a league of some kind. A bowling machine league, a pinball league, that golf game, billiards, softball, volleyball. The beauty of billiards and darts is that you have a captive audience, where most of the other sports have the patrons off playing and the barowner is depending on them coming in after the game to spend money. In the case of darts they are in there spending money for two to three hours playing darts. So it’s in the bar owners best interest to get people to come and play on your dart team. That evolved to where a lot of the bars are paying all of the fees for dart teams.

We have a checklist of sanctioning requirements that covers the dart boards, lights and things like that and each of the various things have a point value. If we get a complaint we send out a member of our sanctioning committee to check things out. They run the check list and if they get a point value of five infraction points that prohibits them from league play on that board until the violations are corrected. For example, locating the dartboard near loudspeakers is 1 infraction point, whereas a measurement violations is worth 5, and an automatic No-No. Playing conditions and the affiliate membership fee are the only two things we hold the bars accountable for. How they sponsor dart teams is their business, although we have been working on methods to assist them with this. We’re still experimenting with that subject.

We have monthly board meetings, a monthly planning committee meeting, we have quarterly finance committee meetings. The last board meeting we designed how a motion should be presented and what structure it should have. You’d think after all these years we’d have one, but you might be surprised how many organizations don’t. We don’t expect anyone other than Board members to attend the meetings unless someone has a complaint.

We don’t assign individual rankings or handicapping or any of that stuff, per se. The method we use to assign teams to divisions has two sides to the equation: there is proximity and parity. Proximity is the distance that teams in your division have to travel. Parity is how your team’s strength matches up against the strength of other teams within your division. When a season starts, lets say we get two hundred rosters in, we enter all of the team members into a computer database then we generate reports on any performance those members have had over the pasts year in any of our leagues and that performance includes how well the team they played on performed previously, whether it’s the same team on another team, they could have played on three other teams with different names and different league nights. We scan it all. We also do a tally of each session in which they had individual achievement write=ups. For instance, you throw a ton eighty or high in or high out or cricket trips; those are all what we consider individual achievements. If you hit any of those in the previous two years they print out on your report. That gives us an idea of the parity, of how strong a team is . Say you have five players and three of them were on a first place team and two of those guys got a whole bunch of write ups, so they’re obviously pretty good shots – so we know you’re a pretty darn good team; statistically speaking. We start with whether you asked for a beginner, intermediate or advanced level division. If we know that your team performed well against other teams and that your team has some stand out players who performed well individually, we schedule you accordingly. That’s an objective approach that doesn’t take into account your win loss record because when you take into account wins and losses, well, not all dart games are singles. So for a doubles match what do you do? Many leagues just weight it; say 50% , or less, of the value of a Singles game win. But if one guy plays every week and he sucks, but he’s playing with a partner who’s the best player on the team who can carry him,, which happens a lot, he’s recorded each week as having a win for doubles but he had really nothing to do with it except the A player on the team carried him. His ranking is skewed – it’s not legitimate. Then comes into play how good were the players they played against that night? Statistically it doesn’t work unless the league is small and the players are playing against the same players week in and week out, or numerous times, so you can get a good data sample. I have yet to see an individual ranking system work for a large league. There’s a lot to be said for the smoke and mirrors, and if people believe it works then so be it. If it works, there should be little score deviation between 1st and Last place teams. That’s the proof. If you’ve got a spread of 20 or more points, or two complete matches, then I’d have to say the “ranking” system isn’t worth the trouble if you’re doing individual players.

The other side of the scheduling was proximity. Because we are a large league that covers a big geographical area, it is the biggest complaint we’ve had to solve over the years. Sometimes people would have to drive forty five minutes to get to a dart match and that’s excessive. And that’s just one direction. Even if it’s just a half hour it’s a long time, so we try to keep driving time to twenty minutes. That’s something we can control much better than Parity. We can’t necessarily schedule teams parity wise so they are guaranteed to compete well against each other. So far, nobody can really do that in a large league. With the proximity, what we did was divide our geographic area into seven regions. Rather than drawing a weird, funky map we went by postal zip codes. That way someone could open a phone book to a zip code map, see the bar they play in is in 44113 area, and know they’re going to be playing right around that area. So, when the teams come in we divide them up by the level they request, their statistical team strength, and then put them into their geographical regions. From there we assign them to division schedules.

Our league formats have changed significantly in the past five years. For years and years it was an eleven game format for our Tuesday League. Then we had a new Director who listened to some people who didn’t think playing in the old format was good and it should be changed to a “modern format”. An old games played in a new format – sure!. So he made a small change of maybe one game for another, and that opened the floodgates. Others wanted changes, too. And then people in other leagues on different nights wanted changes, and the changes spread to other nights. The requests started getting out of hand quickly, naturally. Because you’re going to have at least a hundred opinions on what it should be. When I took over as a league director until we found a volunteer to take the job, I wanted to come up with a method of collecting all of those opinions and compile them into something that everyone could read, so they could appreciate the problem imposed on the league director(s). We used surveys. I would send out surveys with suggestions that they could choose from. Uunfortunately the votes were frequently split down the middle and rarely was there a mandate for a particular format. Then I came up with what I called the “Perfect League” format, and it’s still on our website. The score sheet and format description form is there. I came up with a match score sheet where you could basically choose the format that you wanted for the match. Prior to the match starting you pick a format and as long as your opponents agreed to it they could play it. And that went on for about two sessions before we realized that these guys really don’t want to have a choice. They want people to tell them what they’re going to play. But then they want to be able to complain about what they are being told to play. What I called the perfect league didn’t work. What I did then was take the elements of the perfect league and try to come up with league formats that would finish up the league night with a minimal number of players. One of the biggest problems that we hear of, and one of the reasons that darts is down is that people cannot spend as much time in a bar, which I believe we’ve already covered. Many people just can’t stay out that late. Out of a team roster of five players there might be, in fact almost always, at least one guy who can’t stay late for whatever reason. Work, family, you know he can’t stay out past eleven. So I tried to steer the league format towards finishing up with singles games, or doubles games to where it would only take two players on the roster to finish up the match. We’re very sensitive to the amount of time spent.

We have a fellow who’s gone out and recruited a bunch of bars in a neighborhood that’s a pretty tight knit area, and they want their own game format. I couldn’t see a problem with that. It’s a different score sheet, there’s some administrative stuff but it’s just x’s and o’. Don’t foresee any problems with that except other players in other divisions might want to do that too. They can. That is the overriding policy in our rules, it says on the score sheet if they want to stray from the game format that we recommend all they have to do is agree to it. Still, for some reason, it seems that most players want it all spelled out for them in the league, with no desire to negotiate something different if they’re not satisfied with the format.

Tournament Trails is basically a singles and doubles format where the singles is 301 DIDO, cricket and 501 FIDO. And for the draw doubles they play 501 DIDO, Cricket and 501 FIDO. About the only thing that differs from one bar to the next is that most will add money to the pot in varying amounts. For instance one bar might add $50 if they get a minimum of ten people, and if there’s fifteen or twenty people it may be $100. Or they’ll add $5 per head for everybody after ten people. Tournament Trails has been around for a long, long time. I think the fellow who started it was Jack Dore’. Admirably, it hasn’t changed since they came up with it. That’s why it’s popular, it’s very simple, there aren’t a lot of rules to it, and it has a great deal of credibility. The winners win some money. They win a portion of the entry fees and any money the bar pays that night. Approximately 50% of the entry money goes into the Trails fund. In addition to some money players get Trail points. If you enter the singles event you get four points and two points for entering the doubles. Then, after each elimination round, if you beat your opponent, you get additional 2 points for each singles and 1 point for each doubles Elimination. So for a field of sixteen players you’d get twelve Trails points if you win the Singles competition. The tally sheets go into the central office and we keep track of them. Tournament Trails is open to the public but only members can accumulate points. And once a member gets 500 points, the rule is the top fifty point earners with 500 points or more qualify for a trip letter. We publish cut off dates where points accumulated up to a cut off date can be used to get trips to any one of the tournaments listed in the invitation letter. Once you get 500 points you get one of these letters inviting you to take a trip, if you wish. Trips are published as far in advance as possible, so people can make plans early. You can select the trip you want to go on, and any other special arrangements. The Trails program pays your round trip air fare, they pick up your hotel room for the duration of the event, they give you some spending money, $35 I think, they pay your entry fee into two events and you get a custom embroidered tee shirt with the name and date of the tournament, the Tournament Trails logo, and your name on it. There is a Tournament Trails Director who can be contacted for more information through the web site. Any bar who is an affiliate member of the Club has the prerogative to host Tournament Trails. The only requirement right now is that they have three dart boards. I’m trying to have that reduced to one.

When a new player joins the league I direct them to Trails because it’s always a great group of people and basically a mass of darters right there and that’s the best way to learn any game. There are members who periodically host dart clinics, we’re fortunate to have Wade Wilcox and Gary Mawson in our area, both of whom have put on dart clinics but those are not a regular event.

Because we do the Tournament Trails and send people around the country it’s important that we know where these tournaments are so we can advertise them to our members. It’s surprising how many tournament hosts don’t have a tournament flyer ready until a month or two before the actual tournament date. By then it’s too late for the average circuit player. I mean, if you don’t get your air fare booked at least thirty days in advance you’re paying a healthy premium. My advice to all those people doing tournaments is get these things booked well in advance. If you can’t do it at least six or eight months in advance don’t do it until next year. We try to plan a year in advance around here, with trimester budgets.

Our difficulty is that we are trying to get people to play darts in bars and to patronize those bars on league nights. And we really have no help. The average bar basically sucks at promoting themselves.

We have a distinguished darter award – we just renamed it the Peter Smolleck Distinguished Darter Award. He passed away in March. It is not based on how well a person plays but how the person distinguishes themselves in our sport and our Club. Anybody can make a nomination to the committee for Distinguished Darter and then the Board approves the decision of the committee. We also have a lifetime membership award and to date we have eleven lifetime members. We have individual achievement awards for each league and each level in each league. On the score sheet there is a list of achievements such as high in, or high out, minimum number of darts for a 501 game, low darts for cricket, cricket trips, ton eighties, ton seventy ones. When a player gets five of them on any given week night they get a plaque with their name engraved on it along with their accomplishments.

Then there’s the usual plaques for first and second place teams and bar.

If someone enjoys playing darts this is the place. If you want to play darts I think it behooves you to seek out the largest and oldest place to start. There’s plenty of places and events in which to play darts if that’s what you want to do. Then I would say try others as well. Our club has longevity and credibility and an open door policy to anybody who wants to be more involved in any particular aspect. Whether it’s working on a committee or golf outing or being on the board you can walk in and be part of it.

A combination of things contributed to the demise of the Extravganza. We saw a dramatic downturn of participants after 9/11/01. The following year it was down tremendously. It wasn’t just that people weren’t traveling around as much after 9/11 but that Extravaganza was a niche event. In the beginning the goal was to have the best players come to Cleveland to compete, and it stayed that way. We paid a pro singles event that had a total prize of $8800 and that got a PDC ranking and it brought people in from England, Canada and elsewhere. It’s an anomaly with darts, when you bring the best players in and make them available to compete against, it’s not like other sports, in my opinion. If you’re a golfer and you could go out and plunk down thirty bucks and play against Tiger Woods, or Jack Nicholas or any one of those guys I have a feeling you’d have an endless line of people queued up to play even a couple of holes to play against those guys. But in darts you’re not going to get the average player, who would have paid to play against a golf pro and get his ass kicked, do the same with a dart professional. I think that’s because right now the average darter doesn’t recognize a Ronnie Baxter, or John Part or a Phil Taylor as bigger than life players. I think that will change with the advent of darts on TV. That’s what happened to the Extravaganza: we didn’t get the turn out of the average player. We’d get a hundred fifty people come in from out of town but we didn’t get another fifty people from the greater Cleveland area.

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