Hand eye coordination, muscle memory, steady nerves and an ability to do mathematical calculations.
All of those traits benefit Frederick residents Patrick Guariglia and Brad Crum when they play darts.
“There’s a little luck involved, also,” Guariglia said.
Case in point — Guariglia and Crum were in danger of losing in the semifinals of the the American Darters Association (ADA) Pro 501 Men’s Doubles National Championship, but they caught a break when their opponent miscalculated and hit the wrong outshot.
Crum and Guariglia, who both play for the Western Maryland Dart Association and ADA Area 221, stormed back to pull out a comeback victory, advanced to the final and ended up winning the ADA Pro 501 national title at St. Louis in late July.
As the duo’s intense semifinal win showed, darts can be a mentally demanding sport.
“Definitely pressure. That’s part of the game, too,” Guariglia said. “You make big shots to apply pressure on the other team … to see if you can make them crack.”
This brand of darts is a far cry from the informal version played in countless basements. Guariglia can attest to that.
“My childhood friends, we played darts in the basement,” he said. “Just basically trying to hit a bullseye, didn’t really know any games until somebody taught us cricket, never knew about points.”
In 501, players start with 501 points. The number of points a player gets each turn is subtracted from 501, and the first player to reach zero wins.
The only thing is, to win, the player must hit a double with their last dart, and that double point value must be exactly the number that player needs to reach zero. If a player throws a higher score than their remaining point value, they bust.
Just such a miscalculation opened the door for Guariglia, 52, and Crum, 38, to bounce back in the national semis.
“They had us down 3-0, and it’s a race to 4,” Guariglia said. “They had an opportunity to win the whole match. … He hit the wrong outshot.”
“Brad and I looked at each other, and it was like, ‘Man, we’ve got to run four straight,’” he said. “And we ran four straight. That got us into the finals.”
Throwing darts came naturally to Guariglia, who began playing seriously about 30 years ago when a co-worker — who happened to be president of the WMDA — at a body shop got him into the sport.
“I traveled on the pro circuit probably 18 years ago, took a break and finally decided to venture back into it,” said Guariglia, who won the 2019 Moose International 501 singles title. “Through league, that’s how I met Brad, he worked his way up with his team, up into our more elite division.”
Crum remembers playing darts with his father in the basement.
“He’d kick my butt every day,” said Crum, who credits his father for making him competitive.
After serving in the United States Air Force, returning to Frederick County and getting married, Crum got serious about playing darts about six years ago. He rose through the ranks but took some lumps after reaching Division 1.
“I got a taste of what it really was like,” he said. “But without that, I wouldn’t be here, honestly.”
His baseball background helped — Crum pitched for Thomas Johnson High School’s team. While throwing a dart and pitching a baseball are far from identical, there are some useful similarities.
“The trick is to not try to hit the target, throw at the target … and let your muscle memory take over,” Crum said. “[In baseball], I wasn’t trying to hit the glove, I was just throwing it.”
Guariglia chipped in, “You just basically let the dart do its job, it’s just your timing and rhythm.”
Guariglia and Crum feed off each other when they compete in doubles.
“If one’s down, the other one picks the other one up and their game rises,” Guariglia said. “And God forbid if we ever click together.”
Crum said they were clicking together in the ADA Pro 501 national final, helping them to bring home a national title.
“We got a plaque and recognition and got a little money,” Crum said. “You’re not going to get rich playing in the ADA.”
Those two were thankful for donations, from businesses like All Phase Construction Inc., the WMDA and the Redman Club in Frederick, that helped them make the trip to St. Louis for the nationals. Crum and Guariglia were part of a 12-person crew that drove an RV to the event.
Guariglia is sponsored by Extreme Darts. While he and Crum qualified for the national doubles event, neither played enough recently to garner a national ranking because of limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Then again, the health crisis inspired players like Guariglia to start playing online.
“I got a camera that’s hooked up to my laptop and dart board with LED lights on it, and that’s basically all you need to play online,” Guariglia said. “I’ve been playing guys from all over the world.”
Most of the world’s top darts players hail from Europe. The Championship Darts Circuit, which is North America’s professional darts tour, has been serving as a feeder system for the Professional Darts Corporation, which is now the leading professional body in the sport.
“Hopefully we’ll get a world champion from the United States soon,” Guariglia said.
At any rate, thanks to Guariglia and Crum, there are currently a couple of national champs from Frederick.