At the 1996 North American Open Dart Tournament at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada in August, I had a chance to talk with professional darter Jerry Umberger about his views on where darts is going. This was a steel-tip darts tournament, played on Nodor Bristle Dartboards, and sanctioned by the American Darts Organization.
Rick: First of all where are you based out of?
Jerry: Schuylkillhaven, Pennsylvania
Rick: And you are currently sponsored by a darts company?
Rick: What dart you are throwing right now?
Jerry: That's the Pro Point, the Jerry Umberger signature Pro Point Dart, 24 grams.
Rick: And does that have their standard length points in it?
Jerry: It has movable points..it's their brand new one out now. It reduces dart bounce-outs.
Rick: That flight that you are using. Is that a slim or a cut down standard?
Jerry: It's a regular standard, I have cut it down. I left it a little bigger than I usually do because of the wind. It's usually not this big. (Editors note: there was a lot of concern from several competitors about the large overhead air conditioner vents that were creating strong air currents in parts of the dart hall. The tournament venue was the tennis court & gym area of the hotel, which is also used for conventions and special events like the NAODT. )
Rick: So you adjust the darts flights just a little bit to fit conditions?
Rick: That's an interesting concept. How do you decide on that? Is it a matter of altitude or temperature?
Jerry: It's the air current flying around, the air is actually thinner here in Las Vegas.
Rick: Do you find the large one stabilizes it more?
Jerry: Yeah, because the more flight you have, it will slow the dart up more.
Rick: You have extra short white nylon dart shafts on, but you are not using stem rings. Do you ever use the stem rings that reinforce the end of the shaft?
Jerry: I've had them, but I've been robin-hooding quite a few so I don't like them.
Rick: Any other little fine tuning tips, or anything else that people would be interested in, that you do?
Jerry: With the darts especially, you've got to keep the tips rounded off. You don't want them too sharp, you don't want them too flat.
Rick: So that they slide off the wires?
Rick: What have you been doing on the tournaments circuit this year? Have you been going international, or just play in the United States?
Jerry: I've been over to tournaments in England a couple of times. I guess twice. I've been around the country pretty much. Las Vegas is far as I come west. I come out about once a year.
Rick: You've been pretty high on the ADO ranking list in previous years. Are you doing alright this year?
Jerry: Yeah, I was tied for first I guess with Jim Peyton but I had a couple of months there I didn't play any tournaments so I probably dropped down by now.
Rick: It seems a little tougher to get those points the way the way the darts tournaments are spread out.
Jerry: And then we get a spell in there where I don't go anywhere for about two months then I put my back out right after Cleveland so I'm trying to work my way back. I was playing nice but now I'm struggling.
Rick: And a back injury wouldn't help on these concrete floors this weekend.
Jerry: Everything hurts, everything hurts now.
Rick: What's your darting schedule for the rest of the year?
Jerry: I know we're going to Virginia Beach in two weeks. Pretty well tight for the rest of the year. We're doing a Toys for Tots tournament up in Massachusetts. I've been going up there for the last ten years. They do a one day dart event, usually over $1,000 for Toys for Tots.
Rick: What do you think about the tournament this weekend? I know it's been a little bit different from the usual North American Open.
Jerry: I like the hotel but it's kind of hard on the feet here with the concrete and the noise and the wind is really bad, kind of hard to throw.
Rick: How about the lighting in the hall? (Large high-intensity ceiling fixtures.)
Jerry: It's kind of hard to get used to
Rick: What do you think about the level of competition here this weekend?
Jerry: It's great but I don't think anybody is playing too good because of the wind factor.
Rick: That might be the best chance some people have of beating some of the pros then?
Jerry: Yeah it is, it's frustrating.
Rick: I see that John Lowe, Eric Bristow, and Stephan Lord are here. Who are some of the other pros that you've seen here this weekend?
Jerry: Dennis Priestly, Kevin Spieleck, Alan Wariner, they are all top players from England.
Rick: John Part is here, too. I heard his wife (Holly) did really well in an event, beat out the Canadians. I see Paul Lim walking by..
Jerry: Yeah, Paul is here and Larry Butler and Gerald Verrier. We've got this new kid we're going to have to look for Jason Lupus, 24 years old. You'll be seeing his name next year.
Rick: What are your feelings about softtip darts. Do you play it?
Jerry: I don't get a chance. I have over 60 soft-tip electronic dart machines out in bars, I run the league but I don't get too much time to play.
Rick: Part of your business is in the soft tip industry?
Rick: Do you own a dart shop also?
Jerry: No. I just do dart machines.
Rick: What brand is that?
Rick: I see where Arachnid has automated their leagues with smart cards. Do you use those? (ed note: Smart cards are credit-card sized devices that download all of the evening's game information from the electronic dart machines. Manual record-keeping is eliminated. This feature is an option when buying a coin-op soft-tip dart machine.)
Jerry: I'd like to use them but my players don't like them. I've got some opposition and I don't want to put $1,000 out and not have them use it.
Rick: It seems like automating the dart league process could help steel darts, too. That always seems to be the bottleneck, keeping the stats and membership up to date.
Jerry: Yeah, and it's great for keeping up averages.
Rick: How have you done this weekend?
Jerry: Not too good. We got two top 4s. We should have gone out in the Mixed Triples last night, we should be in the finals.
Rick: Who are your partners this weekend?
Jerry: Larry Butler and Stacy Bromberg.
Rick: That's a good team! Where do you think darts is going these days? Do you see it going all over to soft tip? A lot of people say steel darts is dead and soft-tip darts is going to take over.
Jerry: Well there are more people playing soft tip darts I guess, but steel tip darts will never die. I think what we need to do to make steel tip darts stronger is to have a tournament directors association and have them get together and plan for dart tournaments.
You could have a $100,000 tournament where different associations would work together and have little dart shoots to sponsor darters to it.
Rick: You believe that we need more cooperation between darts leagues?
Jerry: Oh yeah, exactly!
Rick: So you think steel darts is going to survive no matter what?
Jerry: Oh yeah, but I think instead of going against each other, they're going to have to work together. That's the big thing.
Rick: If steel darts goes to electronic dart machines, do you think that players will pay to play on steel dart type bristle boards?
Jerry: I don't think so. But some places have where you buy time to play on the boards like bowling or pool.
Rick: Do you have any throwing tips for darters?
Jerry: I think you should practice. One big thing in practice is pick a target out like you are shooting for the bullseye but you miss it by 2 inches. Throw your other darts at your first dart you threw so you can get it all together. Do that for about 20 minutes. Go into a practice routine like throwing at the doubles and stuff like that.
Rick: Thank you, Jerry.
Interview by Rick Osgood, CyberDarts.com Editor