Bullseyes for the blind at the Richfield VFW

Chris Peterson of Richfield prepares to toss a dart in a back room at the Richfield VFW Tuesday, Jan. 7. Fellow members of the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League wait by the side – New Hope resident Steve Hollie, left, and St. Paul resident Paul Bloomst. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)
Chris Peterson of Richfield prepares to toss a dart in a back room at the Richfield VFW Tuesday,
Jan. 7. Fellow members of the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League wait by the side – New
Hope resident Steve Hollie, left, and St. Paul resident Paul Bloomst. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

A bullseye is a big deal in the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League.

The talking dart board emits a friendly chime when it happens, and on cue, the crowd goes wild. This occurred in a back room at VFW Post 5555 in Richfield on a Tuesday evening early this month.

“That’s a pretty special thing, getting a bullseye,” explained Chris Peterson, who captains one of the two dart teams throwing that night.

The blind dart league came to Richfield in September, making the VFW one of four home bases for the league’s eight teams. “Darters,” as players call themselves, come from across the Twin Cities to throw in what, according to League President Charlene Doll, is the only formal blind dart league in the country.

Ellen Harrity of New Hope throws at a talking dart board during competition in the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League, which had two teams meeting at the Richfield American Legion Tuesday, Jan. 7. Standing by are Chris Peterson of Richfield, right, and Cindy Smith of Fridley. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)
Ellen Harrity of New Hope throws at a talking dart board during competition in the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League, which had two teams meeting at the Richfield American Legion Tuesday, Jan. 7. Standing by are Chris Peterson of Richfield, right, and Cindy Smith of Fridley. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

Plastic-tipped darts in hand, darters step up to a raised plank of wood representing the throw line, and throw the regulation distance at the talking dart board. The automated feminine voice lets them know what part of the board was hit, and the thrower adjusts from there.

If the darter’s blind aim is too far off, a sighted spotter is on hand to announce just how far, and in what direction, the target area is. It is a game the league has been playing since 1988, Doll said.

The idea, she explained, is to provide an outlet for blind people looking for something to do and people to meet, while reaching out to a wider, sighted community.

Cindy Smith of Fridley returns to her seat after a round of throws during competition in the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League Tuesday, Jan. 7, when two teams met at the American Legion in Richfield. Behind Smith are fellow league members – New Hope resident Steve Hollie, left, and St. Paul resident Paul Bloomst. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)
Cindy Smith of Fridley returns to her seat after a round of throws during competition in the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League Tuesday, Jan. 7, when two teams met at the American Legion in Richfield. Behind Smith are fellow league members – New Hope resident Steve Hollie, left, and St. Paul resident Paul Bloomst. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

Peterson puts it another way: “For me, it’s an excuse to leave the house once a week. And maybe put some pants on.”

He pointed out that no one can see what he’s wearing anyway, although there were three sighted people in the room.

Thirty-six years old and born blind, Peterson works from his Richfield home as a computer programmer. He regained an interest in darts in recent years after first picking up the game in college, throwing at his sighted friends’ apartment.

“We would go over there and drink and throw darts,” Peterson said, remembering he was usually a pretty good match for his sighted foes.

Members of the blind dart league range from novice to expert.

A block of wood marks the throwing line for competition in the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League. The line is placed regulation distance, 7 feet and 9.25 inches, from the board. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)
A block of wood marks the throwing line for competition in the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League. The line is placed regulation distance, 7 feet and 9.25 inches, from the board. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

“Your jaw just drops at how good they are,” exclaimed Catalina Roisum of Richfield, another member of the league.

Roisum helped them secure the VFW as a venue through her membership in the Lions Club, which also meets at the establishment.

But the league has sighted players, too, who usually join through a friend or loved one in the league. To eliminate any controversy, rules require that both sighted and blind players wear blindfolds while throwing.

“I shoot better with a blindfold,” said Kelly Peterson, Chris Peterson’s sighted teammate and wife.

On the other hand, the blindfold can get Fridley resident Cindy Smith in trouble.

“Sometimes I have to remember to put my blindfold down, because I wouldn’t know the difference anyway,” said Smith, 61.

Blind since she was 14, Smith joined the league as a way to continue socializing as she prepared to retire from her job teaching braille at Vision Loss Resources about a year ago. The Minneapolis organization provides services to blind people and has helped connect several members of the league.

That was how Paul Bloomst, of St. Paul, found the league as he adjusted to a life without sight. The 43-year-old is
finishing training at the center in preparation for a job filling vending machines in state and federal buildings, part of a federal program that gives the task to blind people.

The former delivery worker remembers the day three years ago when he suddenly learned his life of sight was over.

“It got so bad that I couldn’t see across the street anymore,” recalled Bloomst, who captains a team that was throwing darts at the VFW against Peterson’s squad earlier this month.

Bloomst said the doctors tried to stymie the disease causing the blindness with two years’ worth of chemotherapy. But Bloomst is now learning to handle his blindness and is done fighting it, saying he joined the league “to start the healing process, I guess.”

And it has been a process. Losing his sight didn’t go as he would have expected, including the reshuffling of his social life.

“Some people that you thought were going to be there were the first ones to leave you,” Bloomst said. “And some of the friends that you didn’t think were going to be there were the ones that stick around.”

But the league and the training center he attends have provided Bloomst with a new social outlet.

“I’ve made a lot of new friends,” he testified.

 

Mingling with the rest of them 

“Initially, I was very bitter, very angry, not very happy,” said Gary Boettcher, blind since he was about 12, diagnosed with a disorder called Laurence-
Moon syndrome.

Growing up in Grand Forks, N.D., some kids made fun of him at first. They liked to kick at his cane, for instance, he recounted.

But Boettcher, now 52, said he had a solid support system, and credits his adjustment to inclusion in activities with the rest of the kids – it particularly helped when he started wrestling against sighted opponents in high school. He says he was the first one in North Dakota to do so. Around this time, Boettcher also started speaking on his condition to school kids, an effort he continues to this day.

In a world where it seems nearly impossible for a person with sight to understand life without it, creating that understanding is another of the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League’s goals, according to Doll.

The league president says the Richfield VFW has been “particularly fabulous,” with accommodating wait staff who know how to serve their special needs – they know little things, for instance, like how to fold the check on the signature line so blind patrons know where to sign – but the throwers have a special appreciation for another venue.

Merlin’s Rest Pub, in south Minneapolis, is one of the four establishments hosting the league, with the Richfield VFW being the only one located outside of Minneapolis. While the competitors throw darts in private rooms in other bars, Merlin’s mixes the competitors with the other patrons, placing the boards next to the bathroom. The high-traffic spot is where the blind throwers can gather a crowd.

“You should see the people,” Boettcher said. “They’re pretty amazed. They have to stop
and watch.”

“People cheer us on. It’s fun,” Chris Peterson chimed in.

There will be more cheering Feb. 21-23, when the Twin Cities Blind Audio Dart League hosts a national tournament at Crown Plaza in Bloomington. With no other such leagues in the country, Doll hopes to spread blind darts as a form of outreach as well as a recreational and social outlet.

“This,” she said, “is one way to open doors for some people.”

 

Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected]