Getting the Point
By Jeff Berg
Bill Hulsey recently made local history in Las Cruces. His skill at his hobby allowed him to score big time: 180 was the number, also known in the darts world as "ton-80." Hulsey also knows what other terms of the game he plays mean. Words such as "diddle," "penguin" and "cricket." All quietly taken out of context to become part of the language of darts.
Another part of the lingo, of course, lies in puns. A bumper sticker on a car in the VFW Post 6917 parking lot, where the Southern New Mexico Darts Association meets weekly, reads: "Dart players are great bulls hitters."
Darts matches were once very popular in Las Cruces. But after a while many of the players moved away, some of the bars and such that hosted darts players folded or asked the players to move on, and for several years, there was no activity.
Jump-started by local resident Gary Goodwin, the Southern New Mexico Darts Association has once again got the darts flying. Six teams have formed, and all have representatives taking their turns at the board this night. Bob's Babes might be taking on GotNuts or the Just4fun could challenge the Chili Peppers.
Tonight there are about 20 players gathered to take part in a weekly competition, such as Eleutorio Najera, Jr., a manufactured-homes salesman.
"Call me JR," he requests.
Some of the other players are riding JR tonight. Two teams are required to bring an array of snacks for each meeting, and JR, although slender in appearance, has the metabolism to down a couple of plates of goodies each week before he takes his turn at the boards.
Each player of each team will play a set of three games against his or her opponent. 501, 301 and Cricket are the names of the games. Goodwin tells me "you cannot match your good players against your bad ones."
He describes the basics: "You balance on your forward foot, and allow your wrist to do 90 percent of the work." Since you do not need to heave the lightweight darts, which generally weigh anywhere from 14 to 25 grams each, but no more than 50 grams, your right foot goes forward if you are right handed, and vice versa for a lefthander, making for a softer throw.
"Then as you get set, pretend that your foot is nailed to the floor, and that a tight string is stretched from your eye to the board. It's pretty simple but it takes a lot of practice and skill to keep from getting rusty. I've only been playing for 12 years," Goodwin says. "I am pretty good, but some of these other folks are much better."
I watch as JR takes his turn. With a good eye and balance, he is considered one of the tougher opponents in the league. JR's opponent tonight looks exactly like my first father-in-law, who if he were here himself, would have used my head as his dartboard.
A woman player has a tiny quiver around her neck in which she holds her darts, which can cost anywhere from $6 a set to over $100. She is also throwing well tonight and celebrates her toss with a swig of beer, as many of the other players tend to do.
Custom "flights" (the tail-feather-looking things on the end of the dart) are available for sale, and of course come with all sorts of designs, from plain colors to a design of the Confederate flag.
Goodwin says, "There was a guy named Buck who used to play. Buck was 83, and had a vision problem, but he wasn't going to quit playing. His wife coached him along—to the right, to the left—and he was one of our best players before he passed away a while back." Now she is playing herself.
When playing 301, points do not count until a player first hits a double. The score is then quickly reduced toward zero by the number of points hit by the player. The real skill comes at the end of the game, according to indepthinfo.com, when a player must throw a double or bull's eye that reduces the final score exactly to zero. Any series of three throws (one turn) that would reduce the score beyond zero does not count.
Each player throws three darts in his turn for any game. If a foot crosses over the line, which is seven feet, 9.25 inches from the dartboard, or if a person happens to trip and release his dart, the throw counts for no points and may not be re-thrown. The board is five feet, eight inches from the floor.
To count, darts must stay on the board for at least five seconds after a player's final throw. A throw does not score if the dart sticks into another dart or if it bounces off the board, or pokes the brave scorekeepers who stand next to the board tallying points.
Goodwin explains, "Bill's 180 is achieved when a player throws all three darts of a set and hits the triple 20. That's the approximate three-eighths-inch wide area of the 20 segments at the location one-third from the center to the outer wire. The size it must hit in is three-eighths inch by one and a quarter inch and nine feet away from the target."
And Bill Hulsey's claim to fame is being the first one in local dart competition memory to score the equivalent of a 300 perfect game in bowling or a hole in one in golf.
For more information about the SNMDA, you can contact Gary Goodwin at firstname.lastname@example.org or just show up at the VFW located at 5845 Bataan Memorial West, at 7 p.m. any Wednesday night. Everyone is welcome, and Goodwin says that he and the other players will teach anyone the game if they would care to participate. The group also has a larger tournament scheduled for August 10, which will include larger payouts than a weekly match.
Jeff Berg also wrote this issue's feature on the state line visitors' center.