Sharp competition, charitable aim

Darts tourney raises funds for nonprofit


They drank beer and mixed drinks spiked with Jack Daniels and Captain Morgan. The rooms were thick with friendly, but serious, darts competition - and many chimneys' worth of cigarette smoke.

Outside in the parking lot, Nelson Reightler happily grilled a selection of meats - pit beef, ham, turkey. Burgers and hot dogs, too.

But this was neither a bar nor festival. It was Maryland's state championship dart tournament, with lots of familiar faces from the regional dart scene.

More than 200 people showed up to compete this weekend, including nationally ranked men and women. And much of the proceeds went to help a local nonprofit organization, Emerge Inc., which opened the doors of its Linthicum day center for the developmentally disabled to host the tournament.

"It's like a big family thing," said William "Butch" Brown, one of the participants.

One was Christine Durso, 31, of Millersville who started shooting darts competitively about two months ago, at a bar called Bullseye where she plays with friends. In the tournament - her first - she played in mixed doubles and ladies' singles events (and didn't do so hot, she acknowledged).

But she did get a chance to shoot darts against Marilyn Popp, the nation's No. 2 woman player.

"She's phenomenal ... and she's one of the nicest people," Durso said. "The dart community is like a second family."

A personal connection helped bring the dart tournament to Emerge Inc. David Louden, a board member and treasurer of the nonprofit, which provides services to people with developmental disabilities, played darts competitively through the Central Maryland Dart League.

For years, the league had hopscotched around to various sites whenever it needed to hold its annual statewide tournament, with proceeds going to another charity. But Louden, a certified public accountant who diligently tended bar during the weekend event, was hoping the tournament would find a steadier home.

He ran the idea by David H. Wamsley, the nonprofit's chief executive officer, who agreed. They opened the Columbia-based organization's Linthicum location to the dart world for the first time last year.

Last year, Emerge - which subsists mostly on funding from state and private sources - made about $4,500. This year, with an even better turnout, Wamsley said he hoped the event brings in around $6,000.

Wamsley said he knows little about darts. But he has been impressed with its community, and players' spirit and camaraderie.

"There's this whole group of people out there who are dart fanatics," he said.

Players were optimistic that competition is on the rise, pointing to the first World Series of Darts at a Connecticut casino, where a $1 million top prize was offered to the winner in May.

Organizers said the Maryland event was able to attract more people this year because of richer prizes than in previous state championships - a total of $10,000. For the ladies' and men's state singles championships - open only to Maryland and Washington residents - winners received 80 percent of the total entry fees for that particular event, which cost $15 to enter.

For the weekend, tournament players took over the second floor of Emerge's space. Organizers erected 29 official dartboards and four practice boards.

The tournament offered two popular games: Cricket and 501.

In Cricket, a game mostly played in the United States, players have to hit numbers 15 through 20 three times, with the bull's eye and its outer ring worth additional points.

In 501, players start with that number of points and, by shooting darts at the numbers on the board, subtract points. The first to reach zero wins.

Tournament officials said the state ladies 501 champion was Lynn Martin of Odenton, and the men's 501 champion was Bobby Demarr of Mechanicsville.

"It's a great tournament," said Jean Martin, the event organizer. "For 16 years, we've been making money for our charities."

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