Local dart world champion headlines Marriott event
By Rusty Pate
It seems like such a simple concept – throwing a dart at a target. It seems even simpler after a few drinks at the local pub, which is where most people first come into contact with the game. Yet, for a select few, darts becomes more than just a time killer between beers. The elite compete for national and world titles and prize money.
And one of the premier dart players in North America calls Dayton his home.
Larry Butler currently ranks number one in the American Darts Association’s point race. It is a spot he has grown accustomed to, finishing each of the last five years in the top spot. A sixth points-title would be unprecedented, but Butler is no stranger to breaking new ground in this sport.
In 1994, he became the first U.S. player to go to an individual-invite tournament, a world-ranked tournament, in England and earn first place. He brought home the title in England’s World Matchplay, and he remains the only North American player to ever win.
Europeans view the sport much differently than Americans. Multiple big-money tours have created a competitive atmosphere lacking in the U.S. A boom in the late 1960s and early 1970s brought darts into seemingly every American home. In the early 1980s, the National Sporting Goods Association listed darts as the fifth most popular activity in America.
Last year, it ranked 28.
Butler and a band of passionate believers in the game hope to change that with the New World Dart Series (NWDS), which holds its first event on Oct. 12-14 at the Dayton Marriott, 1414 S. Patterson Blvd.
“We’re trying to give people a reason to want to play darts again,” Butler said.
While local leagues remain popular, Butler said a lack of quality purses have stifled the growth of the sport in this part of the world. Organizers seem to care more about upping the number of entry fees rather than creating an environment where players can not only improve their game, but actually earn a living.
Butler, along with his wife Sharron, began putting the pieces into place for a more serious and professional circuit here in the states. Helping to organize is Anthony Eugenia, president and founder of the Dart Players of New York (DPNY). Eugenia will serve as tournament director for the NWDS.
“We want to change the culture and the way darts are played in North America,” Eugenia said. “We’re going to have a longer-format series with higher prize money for the players so people can start to earn a living at this.”
Where many American tournaments cut down on the number of games, or legs, to facilitate more entries, the NWDS will employ a round robin format on Saturday to determine pairings for Sunday’s main event and consolation brackets. Men’s finals will be a race to nine legs in the early rounds and will culminate with a race to 15 legs for the finals. Women will start with a race to 9 and culminate in a finals match race to 13.
This structure more closely resembles the European model, which will hopefully lead to more competitive contenders on the worldwide stage.
“You tend to see players from this side of the pond, kind of run out of gas,” Eugenia said. “They don’t seem to be well prepared. So, what we’re trying to do with an event like this is to present longer formats for the players to train them, to get them more acclimated to a longer format, a more professional style of play.”
The event will also be available for live stream on the Internet by a professional broadcast team, helmed by L. David Irete. Irete has worked in TV for years and has served as associate director of “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” in between his efforts to make darts more popular in the U.S.
“I saw the hearts of the dart players,” Irete said. “I realized it’s more than just a game. It’s a sport.”
Perhaps no North American player exemplifies that heart quite like Butler. He found a home in Dayton after a stint in the Navy and travelling the country playing the game he loved. His main motivation for moving to the Gem City came from National Darts Hall of Fame members Bill and Elli Nicoll.
Nicoll crafted a custom set of darts for Butler just days before his death. The next tournament Butler played was the 1994 World Matchplay, where the English commentators dubbed him “The Eagle,” a nickname that remains with him to this day. Though the broadcasters were just attempting a clever turn of phrase, Butler couldn’t help but smile at the moniker.
Bill Nicoll owned a company called Eagle Darts.
Butler has tried and excelled at many competitive forays over the years, such as pool and bowling, but nothing can replace the challenge and reward of throwing the points.
“Personally, I don’t think there’s a truer test of eye-hand coordination than to put a needle in a quarter-inch space, eight feet away,” Butler said.
The New World Dart Series kicks off on Oct. 12-14 at the Dayton Marriott, 1414 S. Patterson Blvd. Friday will feature a “Luck of the Draw” doubles tournament, which is open to the public. Entry is $20 with an $800 prize for the winner and payouts for the top 32. Saturday and Sunday’s main events will require pre-registration to play, but the public is welcome to attend the event. The championship webcasts will be streamed online at 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.newworlddartseries.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@daytoncitypaper.com