The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Women’s Darts

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.”

When I started to consider doing a blog about women’s darts, I figured I would be able to share a lot of what I know after playing darts for over 30 years. I have pretty much been what was considered a “good” female player since I started competing publicly. After a few years of local success, I met and married a very successful dart player. My experiences reflected that. For the most part, I was consistently treated with respect.  Even though I was not considered a top player, I was given the respect as one. And the hubby was always the first one to stand behind me and support everything that I have done in darts, whether it is as a player, as a promoter, or as a writer. So I wanted to go out in the community to talk to other ladies and get to know their feelings about being a female darts player. All I can say is that I am completely blown away by many of the things that were relayed to me from other women about their experiences while competing, whether it is at a local level or at the higher tournament levels. It certainly was not all pretty words and good times.

Oddly enough, I asked for feedback from the players too. I even promised anonymity and that I would not quote them directly on anything that would offer a hint as to who they were. And yet I hardly received any feedback at all considering the amount of female players I know. This leads me to wonder if we are so used to avoiding discussing the subject because it’s an uncomfortable and often controversial topic, or are we too intimidated by the responses to our opinions that we may receive? It feels like we have been put in the position to where expressing our opinion is taboo. I know I posted something about the subject recently in a Facebook darts group and was met with responses that reflect the stereotypical comments about washing dishes or ironing. It seems that even asking questions about ladies darts, it is impossible to be taken seriously. However, I sure did get an earful from the few that were eager to share their stories. So much so, that what was supposed to be a blog has now turned into a very large feature piece.

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So we start off with the way women players treat other women players and the overall opinion I did receive begs me to ask the questions: Why do women choose to be so catty or vindictive when it comes to their interactions with other women players? Do women feel the need to resort to these sorts of tactics to gain an advantage over their opponents to bridge the difference in talent levels? Why is it when a player emerges from the group that happens to have a little more talent, or actually puts some efforts into improvement, this person is ostracized from being accepted by the core of female players in the area? Are we that shallow that we have to dislike someone because they win more matches than we do? A good friend of mine commented on it: “Most women do not understand the meaning of competition. They think it’s supposed to be all rainbows and sunshine; all while they are sticking a knife in your back with a smile on their little, vindictive faces.”  I spoke to one lady, and the first sentence of her response was “I wish I could go back some years and never, have ever, played darts or become involved with the local dart community.” The details she shared have changed her life forever and to the point where she has completely washed her hands of it all and is moving in another direction in life. I remember playing for many years in Southern California, but I was not a full time player and only showed up to certain events. I had my reasons for showing up to the specific ladies only tournaments: because all the women didn’t like me. I didn’t care so much what they thought about me. But I made damn sure I showed up to every single one of their events so that they had to be nice to me and let me take the winning trophy home when I won their events.

“The best way to slow down your competition is to keep them watching you.”

From the few things I have read on the internet regarding this subject; it seems it exists in all walks of sports and competition, and life. There always seems to be people who, regardless of your level of success, will try to drag you down. People will talk bad about you to other people because knocking you down will make them feel more confident in themselves. Because of your success, you are left to suffer for their insecurity or jealousy. They tend to actually believe the garbage that they spew about you and until you stand up to declare it unacceptable, it becomes a vicious cycle where more insecure people jump on board until it becomes an entire crowd against you. All because you work harder and expect more from yourself and have achieved some success for it. It’s like being classified as a “nerd” in school because you do your homework; you study and get good grades. But because Little Johnny or Little Jessica doesn’t want to do their homework or study to get good grades, they have to berate you and make you feel like less of a person and certainly not a popular one because you do the work.

 As for how women players are treated by the men. We’ve all seen it. The proverbial “droopy” face when the local guy at the blind draw just found out his partner is a girl. If I had a dime for every time I have seen this over the last 30 years, I would be a millionaire. But seriously guys, we get it. We certainly are not any happier getting you for a partner, especially with that attitude. But honestly guys, if you really were any good, you could get anyone for a partner and win, right? So why the sad face? Chances are you were probably expecting someone as a partner that would make it easier for you to coast through and win some money. Of course, we all know that you picked up darts and were a fantastic player right from the start, which is why you cannot possibly give any thought to partnering with someone who is new or is just learning the game and trying hard to enjoy it and have a good time because it’s a girl. Ewww….cooties even!

I am wondering just where the respect is. Ladies have been competing at darts for a lot of years now and some ladies have truly stepped up and shown the world that they are champions too. We can go back to the 80s and see Sandy Reitan win the Ladies World Masters title and the World Cup Ladies Singles title in the same year. We can flash forward and see Stacy Bromberg become the one and only Ladies PDC World Champion. Have the men ever achieved these same feats? Well, other than Larry Butler Winning the 1994 PDC World Matchplay, the answer is “Nope”. Recently, many of us watched Lisa Ashton put on a fantastic show in one of her singles matches and finish with a 98 average: a phenomenal achievement and on par with a majority of the men. Yet so many female players are looked down at because their play is not on par with the men in their area and rather than being given the courtesy of being accepted as a competitor, they are treated as second class players and their participation in events where there is no separation between men and women is met with open animosity. It’s no wonder that it is difficult to convince ladies to get out and compete more. No one wants to face that much negativity every time they go out to play. It’s supposed to be fun!

“Aspire to inspire before you expire.”

I recently happened upon a news story involving eSports and a video game competition. A young lady, who was a pro player, was accused by two male pro players of cheating once she beat them in a tournament. They were so upset about it that they said if their accusation was wrong, they would quit the pro circuit because the idea that a 17 year old girl could beat them was beyond belief. The gal was not charged, as no cheating was involved. She just happened to be a phenomenal gamer and won fair and square. It resonates with this topic so well. It seems it is impossible for other players to accept that there might be someone out there with more talent than they have. It is hard to come up with a feasible explanation for those people who would stoop to the level of demeaning that person for doing something amazing and winning, rather than celebrate their accomplishments…or at least shake hands like a competitor with some class and say “nice game”.

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Groupies. There is not much more to say. Where is the dignity, ladies? Are doubles partners that hard to come by? Perhaps working on your game and improving your skills on the dartboard might get you more opportunities to compete with great partners instead of relying on your skills elsewhere. I have been told that in soft-tip, many female players will continue to play to lower level standards so that they will be able to pair up with higher rated players to win. I have also been told that many of these ladies will resort to pretty much anything to get those higher rated players to be their partners. I remember when I first met JK over 30 years ago. People thought I was with him because I was willing to trade myself, so to speak, for a great mixed doubles partner. Right. The man was paired up regularly with a lady who was one of the top players in the USA. Obviously a silly notion, but as usual even back then, rumors abound and needed to be addressed all because of the idea that women were using whatever wiles they could in order to snag good partners. Thankfully, I preferred to get my own partners based on my talent and abilities as a darts player. I was just using him for sex….lol…sorry….he was really hot back then.

“After each game, I want to be able to say: I gave it all I could, I gave it my best.”

Events: I recall somewhat of a problem at a major steel tip tournament regarding ladies singles events. It seems that for specific sanctioning from another governing body, the format for the singles events was supposed to be longer than what was advertised and played. The mistake was caught and the men were allowed to play their matches over, but the ladies were told that the longer format was “only suggested” and that they were not going to replay any matches. It seems that there was no respect allowed for the women at this event. They paid the same amount for their entry fee as the men, yet could not be afforded the same courtesy of being allowed to play the longer format. And which of course always brings up the topic that if more women would play, the payouts would be higher. That is comparing apples to oranges. Many of us women were not born yesterday and understand this concept. What we are asking for is equality. If we are paying $25 for our singles entry fee and so are the men, then we should be allowed to play the same extended format that the men do.

Even the American Darts Organization, the governing body for steel tip darts in America has jumped in to take a stand against the ladies in their National Qualifier Program. For those that do not know the program, it involves two National Championships, and two other events to field international teams such as World Cup, America’s Cup and the World Masters. Players from each region compete and the winner goes on to the national event for their chance to make the National Championships or an international team. Of course, some regions are better than others when it comes to fielding enough players to be able to have the required funds to send someone on to the national event. It can cost each player $110 to compete in the regional event (called a National Qualifier). For someone to advance from the regional event (National Qualifier) the fee is $880, which means they need a minimum of 8 players to do so; otherwise, the winner needs to make up the difference in some way, usually out of their own pocket, to advance to the national event. As I mentioned, it is not always easy to field a group of 8 women in their region to be able to have a playoff, and more often than not in a lot of areas, they struggle to field enough to even warrant having the playoff at all. Each National Qualifier is now open for anyone from anywhere to show up to play, as well. So someone from California, can go play in Texas if they so choose. For more years than I can even remember, all over the country, when these issues occurred for either the men or the ladies not having enough players to play, those players that did show up were allowed to compete in the other gender’s playoff. More often it was the ladies joining in with the men, but it was also open for men to join in with the ladies, should the roles be reversed. And yes, there have been times where the ladies have joined in to compete with the men and won the regional event to go on to the national event. Some said it wasn’t fair. Yet these ladies paid the same amount of money to enter the event as the men. They all played the same format. They all went head to head against each other with no difference. Yet someone complained that this was unfair and caused the new rule to be written, which states that in order for a player of the opposite gender to enter into a playoff, the competitors must all agree to let this person play too. If even one person says “no”, the player is not allowed to pay their money and compete with the rest of them.  But then it got worse. Now the rule is that no gender can cross over into the other competitions if there are not enough people. It’s quite simple now. Not enough to play? Then you don’t play. The whole thing just goes against the point everyone makes that there is no difference between a man and a woman competing at darts and we should all compete together. Well, apparently not according to the ADO. They simply chose to drive a divisive wedge between the male and female players in regions all over the USA. Not to mention, what happened to the concept of actually fielding an international team based on qualified, experienced players? Now you have regions where if there are not enough to compete, some of the best and most experienced players in the country are not given the opportunity to represent our country in international competitions. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to have the best of the best representing us each and every time we send a team out to compete. If my money and the money of other dart players are footing the bill for the expenses, then shouldn’t we be the ones to decide who represents us? If you look at the statistics, the players from the USA had much more success in international competitions when the ADO chose the team based on the point standings, as this reflected who the best players in the country were at the time. If you compare the stats from then to the stats from when the ADO started the national competitions to field the international teams, you will no doubt see that the players have had much less success since. Now this is not to denigrate any of those players who competed and won their spot on international teams. Heaven knows I said it years ago in a darts forum and nearly got my head ripped off by a majority of players on the eastern seaboard.  It is simply a commentary on the process of choosing those competitors and the fact that I, quite simply, don’t agree with it.

So if we continue on with the theory that “there is no difference between a man and a woman when it comes to competing at darts, so women should be competing with the men”, when did we stop doing so and start to compete against ladies only? A long time ago in a land I am far away from now, also known as Southern California, there was a time where all events at tournaments were listed as OPEN. There were no ladies events or men’s events. One such tournament time, a group of ladies staged a boycott of an event to demand that “ladies only” events be added to the tournament schedule. And so, the ladies only events were born. Quite frankly, there are women today who would still like to compete against the men, but now they are being limited to only playing in the ladies events, as the once named “open” events have been changed to “men’s” events.

I read this suggestion on another Facebook page and it resonated very well with me in regards to this subject. And ironically enough, it came from a newly formed all ladies dart group in the Philippines. In the post, it was discussed that they should conduct a simple experiment of when you find yourself at a dart tournament, try counting how many ladies are there to play. Their total posted was 1%, which led to the creation of their group to try and promote women’s darts and get more women out playing. Obviously in America, we have a larger number of participants, but yet compared to other sports, our numbers pale in comparison. However, they made a very valid point in their comments about the reality that there are more tenured players than new blood coming in. At some point, those tenured players are going to stop playing and leave no one for the new players to learn from, emulate or look up to. They will lose the chance to benefit from the earned wisdom of the senior female players.

“Girls compete with each other. Women empower one another.

Up until now I have not pointed out any specific examples of players or named any names, however, for this blog, I asked for some feedback on what was written from Jennifer Mounts. Many of you know Jennifer as the newbie on the block who has achieved quite a bit during her short time competing at darts on such a large scale. I asked her because she has had to endure a lot of what has been said above with regards to her treatment by not only female players, but male players as well. She recently made a video blog about this subject and mentioned how she received hate messages on a regular basis because of all of her success lately. I remember when she first came on the scene, started posting video blogs and offered up many things in her effort to make a name for herself. As a result, she has since obtained a few sponsors to help her in her quest at darts. For some reason, this has instilled a lot of animosity from many other players. Again, it seems we can’t celebrate someone’s achievements; we have to try to kick them down a notch or two. I happen to like and appreciate all that she does because it brings more to darts, especially to ladies darts. I am actually jealous of her, but not how you might think. I spent years doing what I could to promote darts, but I was never anywhere close to being as talented with technology as Jen is. She puts herself out there and gives herself over to the public in a way that no other player does. It is not hard to wonder why sponsors have jumped on board with her. She gives them so much more exposure than those players who sit there and are pissed off at her success because they think they have won so much, that they should have those sponsorship deals.

When asked for some additional input to this blog, Jen had this to say:

“I would offer up the solution that we can’t continue to allow ourselves to be the inferior, subpar gender in this sport. The passivity we’ve been promoting involving the issues you mentioned keeps leading to dead ends with the growth of women’s darts. If we only focus on numbers and having an unbalanced ratio of male to female players, then these issues will continue to exist. So even if we find a way to attract a larger number of female players into the sport of darts, they will still experience these social injustices and eventually quit at an alarmingly higher rate than men quit darts, as I’ve seen many women quit already within my two and a half years of playing.

My main point of view is that women should be more concerned with the injustice of our situation then the lack of female players currently in the sport and the lack of opportunities we get because of those low numbers. In a universe where we have equal representation between men and women in darts, gender oppression, sexism and specious reasoning will still exist. People will forever come up with superficial reasons why women are inherently inferior to men at darts that are plausible, but innately wrong and inaccurate.”

“Women putting other women down is like telling the world that you are more worried about your “competition” than your own progress.”

So with all that being said, not everything in the world of women’s darts is negative. There are many positive things going on for the ladies and I wanted to take a moment here to focus on them. Growth has to start somewhere, and some of these events are showing to be a very successful starting point for that growth to occur. It takes a lot of time, effort and dedication to start up and run events and I applaud all who take the time to do it, as I appreciate them and their efforts. They allow us all an opportunity to compete and we should all be grateful for it.

We have Suzanna Kovach in New York, who started the Atlantis Ladies Darts Club and now with the help of Holly Young, has created the Ladies State Team Challenges, where ladies teams from two different states will get together for a competitive match. There is no prize money; however, they are aiming to have some in the future, but since it is a new concept, they have yet to secure a sponsor that would allow prize money to be offered, so for now it’s all for bragging rights. So far, there are teams from New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, as well as North and South Carolina getting into the competitive spirit and joining in on the fun. That’s a lot of dedicated ladies playing just for bragging rights.

In Tennessee, we have the newly formed ladies group Tuff as Nails, whose purpose is to raise the caliber of darts for the ladies and to encourage play, competition and growth among lady darters.

A few years ago, the Ladies Pro Cricket Shoot (steel tip) in Virginia Beach was launched, has been a great success, and is one of the highest paying ladies events in the USA, however, due to concerns with support; the event only allows 32 to ladies to move into the final round. The staff of the event would love to have participation increase enough so that they could change the event to allow 64 ladies to move into the final round, similar to the men’s event. Take note, sponsors!

For many years, the Las Vegas Open steel tip dart tournament had only one ladies doubles event. Thanks to the push from many ladies, a few years ago, a Ladies Cricket Doubles was added to their line-up.

Of course, up in Canada, we have the NAPDA Ladies Spectacular held in conjunction with the Men’s PDC World Championship qualifier. This event is one of the highest paying, longer format singles event in North America for the ladies.

Robyn Bishop of Maryland shared with me all she could about the “It’s a Woman’s Thing” ladies event that was created by some former tournament ladies to promote and support women in competitive darts. The idea is to bring ladies into a tournament environment where it is competitive, but not quite as stressful as a major event. They strive to provide a fun and friendly atmosphere and the symbol of the tourney is the yellow rose (friendship). Their cost is low, $5 per until last year when they added $1 that goes automatically to their charity fund. They started raising money for breast cancer charities when a local player was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer.

Jonathan Gambino started the Long Island Dart Tour featuring a ladies and men’s event. It is a long format singles event that is open to the players in the area and is formatted similar to the DPNY Long Format Singles events.

Kelly Gallagher tells me of the WOPEDL (Women of Philadelphia English Dart League) that plays on Monday nights and has 6-10 ladies on each team.

Troy Nordlund of Minnesota recently held a ladies soft tip event that featured a Friday blind draw and a Saturday bring your own partner A and B level doubles where cricket was played in the morning and 501 doubles with the freeze rule was played in the afternoon. Troy is hoping that this will be an ongoing event.

Mylinda Mannion of Pennsylvania tells me that the LAC Dart League in Lansdale run a ladies only remote league on the G3 boards. Also, in Pennsylvania, John Kuczynski hosts a remote online handicap ladies doubles league that plays on the Phoenix boards.

Then we have Brenda Roush, whose local league team in Colorado, “The 8 Year Old Girls” hosts four women’s tournaments a year. In addition to the event pay outs, the top finishers are qualified for the next ADO National Qualifier.

Dart Junky down in Georgia hosts a remote PCL Women Singles League through the Phoenix Dart Board from coast to coast (HI to NY). They also host 4 vs. 4 State Remote Challenges for the ladies on Phoenix Dart Boards.

There is also the Moonspinners Ladies Dart Club that has been going in Southern California well over 35 years. They host multiple events each year in their effort to promote women’s darts.

Then we come to North Carolina, my new stomping ground. The North Carolina vs. South Carolina Challenge Cup is the oldest interstate challenge series in America at 35 years strong. I was honored to be one of the new competitors in this long standing tradition. Unfortunately, we came up short and South Carolina retained the cup. The team was led by Sandy Hudson, who is not only a strong force as a player, but as I watched her throughout the day, when she was not playing, she was up behind the other players, offering advice, incentive and encouragement and in the end, the SC team produced the results that were needed to win. Sandy has once again shown why she is a great player, as well as a great mentor and role model for ladies darts.

North Carolina also has a City Cup program where teams from different cities are scheduled to compete against the other city teams either at home or away, and has quite a few ladies teams competing for the City Cup. Matches are scheduled throughout the year and it’s like one, long traveling match which culminates in a final playoff to see which team retains the coveted City Cup trophy.

Apparently there are also a few events throughout the country that center around the opening of deer season. Basically, it’s a deer season widow’s event for the ladies while the guys take off for the hunt. What an awesome concept!

And I have been told that in 2017, RedEye Rhino will be launching an inaugural ladies Premier Cup (soft tip) event where the payouts will be raised through the online qualifiers and will be aired the same weekend as the men’s event. However, there is a concern about participation, so it is important that everyone does what they can to support the event.  RR really wants to grow a ladies event, but there is a huge risk. If the event is not supported then it will be cancelled and probably never considered anytime soon. So far we have only seen events catered to the men. This will be the first ever dedicated solely to the women. This is a huge deal, ladies. It is up to us to prove that the risk to prove women’s darts has a rightful place in prime time is worth taking and that we are all behind it 100%. There is also the possibility of a “ladies only” jersey designed specifically for the ladies and with 50% of the proceeds going toward the ladies Premier Cup payout.

In closing, I would like to say that I have met many amazing and fantastic women while traveling and competing at darts. When I was given the task to write my book, I made sure that in the advice section, I not only got advice from some of the best men in North America, but I was also able to include advice from some of the best and most accomplished female players in North America, which I plan to share as a follow up to this blog. They certainly did not let me down and have so much to offer new players. Their experience and mentorship is an important part of darts if we wish to achieve greatness in the ladies game. I hope this column inspires those players to reach out more to newer players, as well as encourage those newer players to get out there and achieve the greatness that they are capable of. Step up ladies! Toot your own horn for all that you do! There is nothing wrong with being proud of yourself, your hard work and your accomplishments.

“There is never a need to worry that someone will outshine us. It’s not a competition. We all need to shine as bright as we can, in our own unique way. It’s not possible for there to be too much light in this world. Shine and let shine.”

Anne Sleepy Kramer

www.sleepykramer.com