Chairmen of the Boards: The Art of Darts
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- In a hall festooned with flags and more commemorative plaques and fading photos than you can shake a stick at, they gather.
They're warriors of a sort and their weapons of choice are made of hard metals like steel and tungsten.
Suddenly a shout cuts through the din.
"Team one is gonna be Art and Casey!"
It's Nora Wageman, announcing the lineup of teams for the 2014 Boise Dart League.
"Team two is Len and Brett!"
Nora and husband Matt are the chief organizers of the big event, a combination of celebratory dinner and no-holds-barred first round in a new season of dart-throwing.
Dart boards are set against one wall, making it look like a seven-eyed monster.
On the floor, a blue line you dare not cross if you're here for serious competition.
Another sign of a true believer?
The award-pin-adorned carrying cases that nearly every player carries like a totem.
The darts inside come in all manner of colors and configurations, some costing $50 or more.
But all have the feather-like wings called flights and steel tips.
"I find with steel there's a lot more accuracy," explains Charlie Lough.
A reporter asks Len Kolbet to gauge his ability.
"Decreased," he says with a sly grin.
Look around and you see that this is more co-ed than you expect.
But Nora Wageman is used to the curiosity and has a ready explanation.
"We always give 'em a run for their money."
To the unpracticed eye, it looks like mayhem up on the throwing line, with so many darts finding their mark--or not in some cases.
"Consistency is the hardest thing for me," says Brian Hurd. "I can throw with distractions behind me and play up to the level of your opponent, like in every sport."
Hurd and his team won the overall league championship title last year, although Hurd, a driver for UPS, missed the final clincher because he had to work that night.
Just to make things interesting, league president Matt Wageman is determined to mix things up.
He randomly draws numbers from a pail and then Nora assigns a name to the number.
There will be no pairing up of last year's champs, that's for sure.
"Randomness is part of the fun," says Wageman. "You get to meet new people, play with new people. Because most everybody knows each other here."
There's no starting gun, no ceremony. It's just step to the line and throw.
Says Hurd, "Darts is like a bullet. It's all on how it leaves your hand and how your release is."
Veteran dart thrower Len Kolbet has a few helpful tips for a beginner.
"The mistake everybody makes is shoot at the board." Then emphatically: "No, pick a spot on that board. If you want a triple-20, aim at triple-20 and try and put the dart in triple-20."
Kolbet makes it look so easy, but then he's been at this for decades.
"There is hardly a bar in Boise that we haven't played at at one time," he says, running his hand through his thick gray mane. "We started in the mid-70's, '75-'77 right in there."
To hear veterans like Kolbet tell it, the heyday for darts in Boise was back when everyone showed up for a pub crawl, or a night at The Big Pine on State Street.
Dozens of teams were involved and play extended over several nights each week. But interest waned when Big Pine was bought by new owners.
It's now "The Dutch Goose," and for awhile it looked like the goose was cooked for steel-tippers in the Boise area.
But then the VFW offered a place for the dart players to gather and it was a match made in heaven.
And yet, after all these years, the goal is the same.
"Focus," says Brian Hurd.
Then, with a wink at an ice bucket brimming with beer, "And maybe a little bit of alcohol."
They play a mix of games: either Cricket or "501." The goal of one is to amass points and the other is to end up at zero.
Think a combination of "21," where you bust if you exceed the limit in front of you, or "Scrabble," with double and triple-scores.
Whichever way you look at it, darts can be addicting for these chairmen of the boards.
Len Kolbet sums it up best.
"It's the only sport that starts and ends with a handshake."
And that's a point everyone can agree on.