First let me say, again, that I love getting actual letters in the mail. The latest came from Ray H. of Grandview Missouri. He writes that he “would like to know if you have any knowledge of a game called Dart Ball. It was played on a 4×8 plywood with a paper playing field like a baseball diamond.”
Well Ray, yes I have heard of Dartball, and here’s some background on the game . . .
Life magazine ran a story in 1941 the featured dartball, so the game has been around for quite some time. Well, actually the Mon Yough Church Dartball League has been active since 1928. At least one report puts the origin of the first dartball styled dartboard back as far as 1923 when the Apex company began offering them for sale.
Life Magazine noted that Kansas City was a “stronghold” of the sport. Other strongeholds were Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Today you can find Dartball alive and well in other areas, including Wisconson, Georgia and Kentucky.
The Board:The playing surface is now 4×4, and consists of 1/4″ of fiberboard, backed by a 1/2″ of plywood for added stability. When put into place, the board is not completely vertical as most dartboards are. Instead, the board is tilted backwards, making it easier to accept a dart that is in a declining flight path. The bottom of the board is 8 inches closer to the shooter than the top of the board. The height of the board is set by one of the manufacturers by placing the bottom of the board at 24 inches from the floor.
That being said, not all dart leagues follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Different leagues will have no “tilt” to the board, and the board height varies greatly.Each board has multiple scoring areas of different colors. The scoring areas reflect the different events in a baseball game. There are sections for singles, doubles, triples and a home run, as well as areas for balls, strikes and outs. The Wisconson Dartball website summarizes the board as follows . . . “All white is safe. All orange is out. Green is foul, grey is a strike.” That sounds simple enough.There are, however, a couple of unique scoring sections that include a “two base single” where the batter is awarded first base as a result of the dart, and any runners on base already advance two bases. There are also sections that result in a “double play” and a “sacrifice out” that would advance the runner.
Gameplay:The game strongly mimics traditional baseball. There are two teams of 9 players competing. Each player’s turn at the throw line mimics a batter in baseball. They can throw until they strike out, are walked, get a hit, or hit into an out. Umpires are used to call the game. Sometimes 2 Umpires per side are used (an Umpire of Darts and an Umpire of Plays are used in the Spencerville PA Dartball League).
The darts used in the game are Apex # 2 and come in at a whopping 7 1/4 inches long. They come in both three feather and four feather flight configurations. By comparison, a standard Widdy dart is 5 3/4 inches long.
The distance of the throw line seems to differ from league to league, but 20 to 25 feet seems to be the norm. Also, players are sometimes restricted to a particular throwing motion. For instance, in Wisconson, players must “pitch” underhanded.
Churchgroups – not Taverns:There are two chapters dedicated to Dartball in Dan Peek’s book “To The Point, the Story of Darts in America”. In one of them, it is reported that the president of Apex recollects that the sport of Dartball was spread across the country “by Johnny Appleseed types, such as Lutheran ministers who would bring their dartboards and their bibles as they moved from one congregation to the next.”
That quote may bear more than a bit of truth. In looking at the greater Dartball community, many of the active leagues are Church Leagues. And, for whatever it’s worth, Monday Night seems to be Dartball Night across the country.
Although the Washington PA dartball league isn’t a church league, they do have an upcoming movie based on their pastime, and a trailer is available for viewing at their website: http://www.dartballthemovie.com/dartball_08.html
Another short film clip that you can watch about dartball features Paul Knapp speaking on the topic.
Parts and Labor:If you’re interested in starting to play dartball, you’ll need a dartball board, apex #2 darts, a stand, and a lighting system. The boards are available online, or can be manufactured. In an interview for “To the Point, the Story of Darts in America”, Robert Glass from Apex stated that “Every month or so we get a call from somewhere in the country from someone asking for materials. They are usually vague about what they want them for, but it’s not hard to guess that they are trying to make a Dartball board. We don’t mind at all, but everyone thinks they will be infringing on our patent. We don’t care about that, we’ll be glad to help anyone with materials or instructions on how to make a Dartball board at no charge, with no problems.”
The darts are available from Apex retailers. The stands and lighting systems seem to be made by each Dartball group. I haven’t been able to find any commercially available.