When a friend challenged Brandon Hudson to a dart match five years ago at a Platteville, Wis., bar, Hudson was soundly defeated.
Little did he know, it proved to be a turning point in his life as a simple game turned into so much more.
Hudson and long-time friends Kliff Durham, Ty Bass and Kyle McWilliams claimed first place last week at the National Dart Association’s Team Dart championship in Division 2 team cricket in Las Vegas.
“I went to the bar one time and a friend of mine was playing darts, and I was like, ‘Oh, what’s this game?’’’ Hudson said. “He kinda kicked my butt at first, but from that point on I became obsessed with it and have been practicing for umpteen hours a week. We all started on the low-end skill-wise and now we have just become obsessed and put in the work.”
The friends’ journey to Las Vegas began by competing in a league in the Platteville area in 2016 and their newfound love for the sport couldn’t have come at a better time.
“When we started, the Platteville league had under 10 teams and we came along and started going to tournaments and everyone was like, ‘Oh, you can actually do something with this game,”’ Hudson said. “We kind of built our league up and last year we had almost two dozen teams playing in the league.”
The idea to try their hand at the Las Vegas national tournament came about just this year. Teams qualify for the event using their scoring averages through an NDA sanctioned league to get placed in a division at the national tournament.
Because the four friends have been so active in the community, they were able to secure some contributions to help offset the entry fees to Las Vegas. Platteville bars The Gym and the Upstairs, as well as area businesses Bovine Mafia and Strictly Shingles contributed money towards the team’s journey.
“We just threw a team together and decided to give it a shot against some of the best shooters in the nation,” Hudson said. “Luckily we were able to throw against some of the best shooters to prove ourselves and prove that we’re not just crazy and wasting our time every day.”
Based on their averages, the team known as “Strictly Bulls,” landed in Division 2 of the team cricket tournament, just two levels below the highest masters division, so the competition was quite stiff.
“Some of the teams we played against — they hardly missed,” Hudson said. “We just kept each other pumped up and anytime they did miss, we took advantage and came out on top somehow.”
Hudson said there were definitely some nail-biting moments, but one member of the squad continually came up clutch in Vegas.
“We took a team vote and we decided that Kliff Durham was our team MVP,” Hudson said.
On three separate occasions toward the championship, Durham closed out the match with a bull’s-eye. Had he not come up with the clutch throws, Strictly Bulls’ opponents would have had an easy path to victory each time.
“We voted him the MVP because of the amount of pressure he was under and he never let us down once,” Hudson said. “He hit some huge darts to save us.”
Hudson recalls one of Durham’s match-clinching throws came down to the final dart.
“The other team just needed one bull’s-eye also, so it came down to bull’s-eye vs. bull’s-eye,” he said. “He had three darts to do it and went miss, miss, single bull to win the match. It was tense to say the least.”
Durham’s heroics in crunch time ignited a familiar roar from Hudson.
“When I get pumped up, I always scream, ‘LET’S GO,”’ he said. When we have a big round, I’m always screaming it and they look at me and are like, ‘Oh gosh’ and just shake their heads.”
What astonished Hudson, McWilliams and Bass the most was that Durham did this all without the aid of any liquid encouragement.
“We told him, “‘We don’t know how you do this sober because we were shaking behind you,”’ Hudson remarked. He was just giving us heart attacks, but every time we needed him, he was there for us.”
The team cricket championship was not the only hardware the guys brought home from Las Vegas. Bass and Hudson claimed third place in Division 1 doubles cricket, McWilliams and Durham took first place in Division 6 doubles cricket and the foursome finished fourth overall in team 501.
“To do that well within five years of all of us starting this game is something we are all super proud of,” Hudson said.
While the tournament took up the majority of the trip, the team was able to explore Las Vegas and celebrate their national championship.
“The night we won the championship, we went downtown and let loose a little bit because it was a sigh of relief that we proved to everyone we did what we came to do,” Hudson said. “All four of us guys let loose a little bit and had one or two too many of those rum-slushies.”
It’s safe to assume that since the team’s inaugural trip to Las Vegas resulted in a championship, Strictly Bulls will be back next year to defend its title.
“Oh yeah,” Hudson said. “We already have it planned for next year.”