Plenty of Perry County projectiles are being launched in Frohna on Tuesday nights this February. That is because the annual Lutheran Dartball Tournament is now taking place in the gymnasium of Concordia Lutheran Church. It is a tournament which lasts for four week, and this year includes teams from 13 different local churches. Around here, dartball is a sport in which just the men participate. I decided to take a little trip over to Frohna this past Tuesday to get a feel for this athletic event and take some photos. Today, I hope to share a little of the history of dartball.
First, let me tell you a little bit about the game itself. Players take turns tossing a dart underhanded from 20 feet away toward a board with designated targets on it. This is what the board looks like.
If you hit any of the orange areas, you are out. Hitting three strikes also results in an out. If you miss the board entirely, you are also declared out. After three outs, your opponents come up to bat. As in baseball, nine innings are played in a game, and in case of a tie, extra innings are required. By putting together hits (single, double, triple, home run), runs can be scored. Around here, a dartball team follows the example of baseball and consists of nine players.
The darts for this game are larger than the ones used in bar room darts and consist of a wooden body with three feathers attached. Below is a photo of the kinds of darts that are used in this game.
Next, let’s take a look at the history of dartball. The dartball board was invented by the Apex Company in 1923. According to an article on Wikipedia, the game of dartball caught on especially in churches. I might even state that Lutherans are given much credit for the popularity of dartball in America. The following quote comes from the Wikipedia article.
“…..the sport of Dartball was spread around 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.”
I guess you could say that there was a time when Lutheran pastors in America developed a Dartball Evangelism Program.
As near as I can tell, one of the very early hotbeds of dartball among Lutherans was in the state of Wisconsin. I found evidence that there was a Lutheran dartball league in the Milwaukee area in 1933. So when did this sport make its way into this area? Fred Eggers provided me with a list of dartball champions which dates back to 1947.
I do not know the exact details about how dartball came to be played here, but it seems to have taken place not long after World War II. If you look at this list of champions, you would probably identify the Friedheim team as the one which would correspond to the dynasty of the New York Yankees.
Our museum has a photo of the Trinity dartball team from many years ago. We also have folks around that have been able to identify all the players in the photo.
Front row: Stephen Grebing, Tim Mueller, Wilbert “Poker” Enke, Theo Schmidt
Back row: Ervin Holt, Ellis “Muddy” Meinz, Herman Weber, Henry Meinz, Herb Dreyer, Herb Mueller, Oscar Schlimpert, Bruce Schmidt
If the dartball league started here in 1947, then this year would be its 72nd year of existence. If you look closely at the above photograph, you will see some members of the team who were quite young, others who were up there in years, and several in between. I saw the same thing when I visited the tournament a few nights ago. Dartball is an inter-generational activity. It brings together men of quite a wide range of ages. I saw a few examples of fathers and sons participating on the same team. The present team of Trinity, Altenburg has players from high school age all the way to the person of Eddie Lichtenegger, who, shall we say, has several decades of experience participating in this sport. Eddie also told me that a player on another team was 82 years old.
Dartball gives men in local churches the opportunity to establish and maintain friendships between members of many different Lutheran congregations in this area. The general atmosphere that I viewed this past Tuesday could be described as friendly competition. There were plenty of smiles to be seen and lots of laughter to be heard in the crowd.
I took a few videos of men throwing darts so you could get a sense for how this game is played. Sometimes, players throw just one dart and make an out. Others may have to toss several darts before their at-bat is ended with either an out or a hit. It appeared to me that the games were self-officiated. A person from each team would make any judgments about where the dart hit the board. This player made an out with just one toss. (These may look up-side-down or sideways, but they should play right-side-up.)
The player in the next video had a few tosses.
This video is my personal favorite.
I cannot resist telling a few stories have been shared with me about the sport of dartball in this area. First, many years ago, a television station came to do a story on dartball in this community. My Uncle Ossie Schlimpert (who can be seen in the above photo) was interviewed for that report. He was one of the oldest players at the time and was asked about his experience as a longtime dartball player. He apparently said, “As the age goes up, the average goes down.” I get a smile on my face when I hear that story because I can just imagine my Uncle Ossie not only saying that, but also saying it with a little smile on his face and a little glint in his eye.
Another story that was related to me had me laughing out loud when I heard it. A gentleman from Trinity’s team was calling up men in the congregation to find out if they planned to participate in the upcoming dartball season. A call was made to Eddie Lichtenegger. When asked if he was going to participate, he said, “I don’t think I’ll play dartball this year.” The gentleman on the phone then heard Rita Lichtenegger’s voice in the background yell out, “Oh, yes, you’re going to play. It’s the only night I can get you out of the house!” He played.
I attended the second of four nights of this year’s tournament, so some results had already been posted from the previous week’s games.
There were also some statistics posted showing the top players in several categories.
During the four weeks of the tournament each team plays every other team one time, so with 13 churches, each team will play 12 games. The Frohna gymnasium was set up with 6 different boards, allowing 6 games to be played at once. At the end of four weeks, the team with the best record will be declared the champion. Any tie-breaking will take place on the final evening.
I have heard that there have been some rare occasions when the females around here may have played a game or tournament of their own in the past. I have also heard about a female league that exists in another location in Missouri. However, for the most part, dartball has been an activity involving the men. I can tell you that there were only a few females in the crowd Tuesday night, and most of those could be found in the kitchen where they were selling concessions.
Here are a few other photos of men participating in this tournament. If you look closely, you might be able to find the dart in the air in a few of these pics. The thumbnails can be clicked to enlarge.
When a game was over, you could tell this tournament was all in good fun.
I don’t often express opinions on this blog, but today I will dare to do so. I think it is great that the men of East Perry and Cape Counties have an opportunity to participate in a “men only” activity. I especially like the fact that it is a church activity for men. It is important for men to be actively involved in church activities. Dartball gives some men an opportunity to do so.
I guess it is possible for me to still get involved in this sport. It is certainly a sport for all ages. Maybe my wife would want to get me out of the house once in a while.
4 thoughts on “Dartball Tourney Time”
Great article. You captured the true meaning. Just the other day I spoke with Terry Holder from Scott City how dartball was going. He talked about the tournament. I used to play for Trinity in Cape. We had men from 18 to 80. Many good memories and times.
Great article! Especially enjoyed the photos and videos, as well as the “manly” camaraderie. My Dad (Richard Popp) was a big fan, having learned the game in Summit/Chicago IL. Perhaps he introduced it when he came to Altlenburg-Trinity in 1945 from Summit. I was too young to play, and, when we moved to Altamont IL in 1956, the preferred men’s sport for Lutheran men was bowling. Dad kept a cigar box with the wooden-shaft darts in our basement, but we had no game board.
I looked to see if a local pastor moved into this area at that time, but I didn’t consider it may have been a teacher.