Great Barrington VFW Post hits a bull's-eye with dart league

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A dart board and a bar make for a potentially catastrophic pair. One invites accurate tosses of a sharp object from about eight feet away; the other encourages the imbibing of drinks that both inhibit coordination and, too often, stoke hubris.

Yet, in many taverns around the world, you'll find patrons with elbows pinched towards their ribs and darts tucked between their fingers, prepared to shoot steel-tipped objects (occasionally, soft-tipped) at a circular target across the room. And, somehow, disaster is generally averted.

The bar at James A. Modolo VFW Post 8348 is one of the watering holes where this improbable reality regularly unfolds. With three boards situated toward the room's fore, entrants would still be wise not to veer towards the walls after crossing the threshold. This is especially true on Wednesday night when the veterans service organization hosts a dart league that draws 20 competitors from Great Barrington and beyond. Now in its fourth year, the league has grown popular enough that it had to turn away some interested dart-throwers when the season began in late fall. (VFW membership is not required to join and nearly all of the participants aren't veterans.) Still, the full slate doesn't prevent another 20 to 30 locals from stopping in during the evening, taking in the proceedings and offering some commentary from their bar seats.

"It's actually been really good for the Post," Post 8348 Commander Michael Wagner said of the league during a smoke break after one of his games on Jan. 17. Wagner said that the revenue generated by the dart league, for example, is paying for the installation of a stair chair at the multi-story building.

League members team with different players every week in three two-on-two contests: cricket, double-in, double-out 401 and another game of cricket or 401.

For Wagner, cricket is the more difficult game. He used to play darts on the USS Spartanburg County during his time in the U.S. Navy. It didn't make him an ace.

"I'm consistently last for the last three years," Wagner said of his standing.

Sean Sermini fares better. Along with Gavin Pollock and Jon Seward, Sermini organizes the league. The Great Barrington native began playing darts when he was living in Chicago. His neighbors each had dart boards, and they would alternate playing in each other's garages.

"We didn't even know the rules," Sermini said.

They are complicated. Cricket requires accuracy and precision, with teams aiming only for sections of the 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15 and bull's-eye board areas. Broadly, each squad is trying to own all of the numbers (and the bull's-eye) before the opposition and accumulate more points in the process.

Double-in, double-out 401 is more novice-friendly, with inaccurate tosses still rewarded if they land somewhere on the board. Each team's goal is to reach zero points before the opposition, subtracting their scores from 401 after each turn.

Though conventional wisdom says that cricket is more challenging, 401 can provide a mental workout for some with all of the math.

"That's why we have the calculators," Sermini said of the old black devices resting on tables beneath the boards.

Unlike his early darts days, Sermini can talk strategy now. "A handful of us are in it to win it," he said.

New Marlborough resident Carol Keuma-Hipwell is one of them. On this night, she had collected two more victories, upping her season total to a league-leading 27. She has improved from last season.

"It's not something I thought I'd be good at," she said of darts.

Pollock, who grew up in New Marlborough and handles the games' scheduling, said beginners shouldn't be discouraged from joining next year.

"A bunch of people have never played before," he said of this year's crop, which primarily hails from Great Barrington but also includes competitors from surrounding towns and Pittsfield.

Even when the games aren't going well, there's plenty of action around the bar, where most bottles of beer go for $3.25. This particular night had invited a cheesecake showdown. A couple of spectators had brought the dessert. They were sampled next to the room's glowing popcorn machine. Colleen Callan, the organization's event manager, said during a break from bartending that pizza usually makes its way onto the premises at some point, too.

Post 8348 certainly has a communal vibe and it's trying to expand that circle by offering more activities. The club, for instance, bought a fourth dart board, and Callan mentioned that a table tennis league may soon be added to the club's card and dart nights, too. Both Callan and Wagner would like to see more young veterans joining the organization; the dart league, which is more youthful than the pitch nights, may be one way to hit that target.

"It's been growing more and more every year," Callan said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.




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