If It's Thursday Night,
It's Bullseyes

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996. All rights reserved.

On Thursday nights in late winter the three taverns facing the railroad tracks in Shoshone, Idaho, are comfortably warm and inviting. Inside any of the establishments customers will be lined up at the bar and scattered among dimly lit tables. Reba will be wailing from the juke box and a crowd will have gathered around the electronic dart machine at one end of the room.
   
"Pock!" goes a soft-tipped dart into the board and instantly the machine tallies its score. Then another player toes the foul line.




This sparsely populated niche of southern Idaho is a long way from England, where throwing darts at a circular, numbered board is a passionate pasttime. But out of every eighty-five residents in the all-rural Lincoln County at least one is a competitive dart-thrower.

"I enjoy the competition and the social aspects of it," says Sue, a Shoshone darts enthusiast. "It gives us a purpose in going out."

Sue plays on a four-person dart team called The Renegades which is top-ranked in the Lincoln County Dart Association. Every Thursday the association's 10 teams are paired in competitions at county's five taverns. The players quaff brews between throws, compare scores and styles, talk politics and gossip.
   
Beginning a week before Thanksgiving and continuing until spring, the dart league is a mid-week focal point for its 40 members, a group of truck drivers, farmers and highway department workers ranging in age from their mid-20s to late 40s.
   
"We start playing late in the year when everything slows down a bit and farmers start getting free in the evenings," says Mike, a truck driver and president of the darts association. He started throwing darts five years ago and his affinity for the game developed quickly. He has scored several "hat tricks," which means putting all three darts in the bullseye.
   
The key to success in darts is being able to focus and make the shot. "You've got to find your groove and work on that," he says.
   
The game's main attraction is the camaraderie of the players, everyone agrees. But why darts are so popular in Lincoln County is a mystery.
   
Perhaps it's because the bowling alley was closed down for awhile, Sue suggests. Many of the dart-throwers in Lincoln County are also bowlers.
   
Mike disagrees, taking aim on his groove. "I think it has more to do with long, cold winters."



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