For three nights a week, Cleveland becomes a darts town thanks to the Cleveland Darter Club.
At more than 50 bars across the city on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights, drinks are poured, darts are thrown and friends become enemies — all thanks to a club as ingrained in Cleveland’s DNA as Edgewater Park or Tower City.
In 1969, a local businessman and his friend started playing darts in their office building Downtown to pass the time and soon became interested in trying to get other people to play. So they, like any Clevelander worth their salt, went to the Harbor Inn in the Flats to see if they could convince others to start playing. And pretty soon the bar was full nearly every night with people playing darts.
Now the group is led by newly elected president Kathleen Mazur, whose journey with darts started when an ex-boyfriend took her to a dart competition. While at the tournament, she ended up working as the scorekeeper for one of the boards, where she learned the golden rule of being the scorekeeper: you stand still.
“At one point, I turned while I was there, and this guy turned and looked at me, lowered his voice, and said, ‘Don’t ever move,’” Mazur recalls. “Now I’m really good friends with him.”
The league is one of the oldest dart clubs in the nation and is spread across the city, ranging from old-school staples like Pride of Erin on Lorain Road to newer establishments like Rookies Sports Bar & Grill in Parma, which has 10 dartboards.
“It’s the best thing for a bar to put in to get some return on its investment. The people who play it drink,” says previous president Brian Kaczmarski. “It’s like the Cheers of sports.”
The setup of the league is simple: Teams show up and, depending on the night and league, play a mix of single, double and team games. Whichever team has the most points at the end of the season wins the league.
While the makeup of the league is predominantly 35- to 55-year-old males, both Mazur and Kaczmarski say they’re trying to add more diversity to the group, thanks in part to the ease with which you can pick up the game.
“People will come out to the bar, see some dart boards, will want to play and will end up in the league,” Kaczmarski says.
The club’s membership peaked at 3,000 members in the late 1980s but has slowly dwindled due to various reasons ranging from most bars instituting smoking bans to the rise of cell phones.
“No one goes into the bar to play parlor games anymore,” Kaczmarski says.
Even if the league isn’t at the heights it reached in the ‘80s, it still has a strong number of participants, with more than 80 teams playing in the fall and winter leagues. A big driver of that participation is the club’s Trails Program, which consists of weekly tournaments that provide a place for beginners to play while also letting members earn “trail points” that they can then use to pay for costs associated with playing in national events.
But for the city’s veteran throwers, the group provides a place where they can go toe-to-toe with the city’s best while also helping teach the next generation of players.
“The greatest player in the world is probably playing in their basement,” Kaczmarski says with a laugh.
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