Column #388 Helen Scheerbaum – FOREVER the First Lady of Darts

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Column 388
Helen Scheerbaum – FOREVER the First Lady of Darts

Sadly, the one and only – the AMAZING – Helen Scheerbaum passed away last night after a long illness. She loved this crazy old column. I run it again in her memory. May she rest in peace.
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It’s the Little Old Lady from Pasadeeena
Go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go
Has a pretty little flower bed of white gardenias
 

– Jan & Dean, 1964
I don’t know about you, but if someone were to tell me that the best female shooter in their home town was some octogenarian, great, great grandmother, I’d say, “right, send her grey-haired ass to my home town and I’ll smoke her knickers right off her bod.”

But parked in a rickety old garage
Is a brand new, shiny red Super Stock Dodge
Tell me that your home town is the spring from which all darts sprang in America, steeped in history and tradition and ever-reverent of its darting heroes, and I’d say, “then tell your hot-shootin’ granny to bring me a cheese steak.”

So what if the little old lady’s from Philadelphia? So is Jimmy Lutz!

And everybody’s sayin’ that there’s nobody meaner
Than the little old lady from Philadelphia
She drives real fast and she drives real hard
She’s the terror of Roosevelt Boulevard
It’s the little old lady from Philadelphia!
But tell me that your granny is the First Lady of Darts (a moniker aptly coined by Frank Owens of Virginia Beach in 1979 and popularized by Jay Tomlinson at Bull’s Eye News in 1994), Helen Scheerbaum, and well, faster than a cheese steak smothered in onions and sauce, I’d gulp down every frickin’ word I’ve written so far – except the part about Lutz.

If you haven’t heard, on April 25 at the Polonia Club in Bridesburg, the 81 year old Scheerbaum popped a couple of Aleves for sore knees and turned back Mickey’s hands by sharp-shooting her way through a qualifying field of the best of the best that the City of Brotherly Love had to offer – not a one of them less than 30 years her junior – to take home the coveted title of Ms. Philadelphia, 2004.

If you see her on the street don’t try to choose her
Go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go
You might drive a goer but you’ll never lose her
Go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go
Well, she’s gonna get a ticket now sooner or later
‘Cause she can’t keep her foot of the accelerator
Like so many dead Rockettes, one by one – Joyce Hamilton (ranked 23rd in the country and who, while facing 20, went down in the semis to a Scheerbaum 149-close), Alice Trego, Stephanie Hughes, Eileen Willis, Theresa Sieger, Cheryl Smith-Lentine, Frannie Frederick (Stacy Bromberg’s partner at the last Chesney Open – who defeated the team of Hamilton and Scheerbaum in the finals of the Ladies Doubles 501), Lori Kelly, Donna Rafi, Cathy Jasinski, Carmen Derose, Heather Gallagher, Cindy Staub and Stacy Gillespie – found themselves dispatched from the field.

And everybody’s saying that there’s nobody meaner
Than the little old lady from Philadelphia
She drives real fast and she drives real hard
She’s the terror of Roosevelt Boulevard
It’s the little old lady from Philadelphia!
Now it’s crunch time.

Just two ladies are left at the Oche: the First Lady and 50 year-old Mary Jo Chesney, currently the 12th ranked female shot in the nation and perennial (FIFTEEN times!!) Ms. Philadelphia. Scheerbaum knocked Chesney into the loser’s bracket in earlier in the afternoon. But Chesney battled back. Now she has to win twice to pad her string of crowns. Double elimination. 501. Best of five legs.

Go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go
Handily, Chesney takes the first set to level it all up.

Feeling no pressure, Scheerbaum quickly rebounds to notch a one leg advantage in the final set. The crowd begins to gather, sensing something special, something impossible – something historical – just might be afoot.

Go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go
Undaunted, Chesney strikes back and ties it up again.

Scheerbaum digs deep. She strikes back herself to take the third leg for a 2-1 lead. Could it be?

The guys come to race her from miles around
But she’ll give ‘em a length and then she’ll shut em down.
Could it be that there is still something left in her seemingly bottomless tank of willpower, stamina and laser-like hand-to-eye coordination? Could it possibly be after all these years?

And everybody’s sayin’ that there’s nobody meaner
Game four.

Both ladies start off strong. Chesney sticks an 83. Scheerbaum throws in her age.

Battle weary and with the eyes of the hall upon them – even the preoccupied eyes of Walt Felton, Joe Furphy, Rich Frazier and Mick Sweeney – the men still vying for the glory of Mr. Philadelphia (wide open this particular year thanks to Bill Davis’ decision to travel to Blueberry Hill, and eventually won by Felton) they struggle through several weak handfuls: three or four 41s, a couple of 28s and a 21.

The score remains close…

With 238 remaining Chesney pops in 85 to leave 153.

Scheerbaum strokes a 95, leaving 166.

Than the little old lady from Philadelphia!
Chesney steps up and leaves 108.

That’s when Scheerbaum drops the BOMB. The First Lady nails 134 to set up a 24-close.

The leg, set, match and title are hers…

…provided Chesney can’t clean up the 108.

She drives real fast and she drives real hard
Chesney steps up with the darts in her hand to force a deciding leg.

Set. Stroke. Release.

She nails the t20 dead-on and confidently places her second center of the number 8 pie.

THAT’s when Jimmy Lutz rushes out of nowhere and tackles her to the floor!

No. No. That’s a lie. Sorry.

Chesney’s throwing perfect. She’s been throwing sure and steady for hours. Now, just one dart and double top stand between her, one last game and an unprecedented SIXTEENTH Ms. Philadelphia title. She takes aim and lets the dart fly. But it’s not to be.

Looking at 24 and feeling every bit of her age, Scheerbaum steps up and reaches deeper than she’s ever reached in more than a half-century of toeing the Oche. She takes a deep breath…

Uncharacteristically, her first dart strikes a full inch high of the wire, awkwardly angled. Her second dart sticks below and to the right of her first dart, pretty much blocking the logical flight path for her final attempt.

She’s the terror of Roosevelt Boulevard
Scheerbaum takes another breath. And then – as uncommon as it may be for most of us, but entirely comfortable to someone weaned decades ago on the American game – she steps far, far (almost ridiculously far) to the right edge of the line.

One more breath. Set.

Stoke.

Release.

The dart takes flight, beautiful flight, propelled by more years of experience and sheer determination, than guide any dart in any hand anywhere in America or the world.

BAM!

It’s the little old lady from Philadelphia!
It is over. Chaos. Scheerbaum is swarmed!

Worn down-and-out by splendid, gracious youth, Chesney – as gracious as they come in her own right – immediately extends her hand in congratulations, respect and friendship. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do the same thing when I’m 81,” she offers, “but with my luck you’ll probably still be here kicking my ass at 110!”

Go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go
Afterwards, Hamilton (Scheerbaum’s long-time friend and doubles partner), who saw her fate flash before her eyes earlier in the day, thanks to a Scheerbaum 149-close, reminisced ecstatically, and probably, better than anyone else, put her finger on what keeps Scheerbaum going and winning at the highest level of darts competition. “She HATES to lose. Not that anyone likes to lose, but Helen really hates it. I love her and want to be just like her when I grow up.”

Go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go
The legendary Ray Fischer: “It’s just unbelievable. Really. To be 81 years old and still shooting darts, let alone shooting competitively and, now, winning Ms. Philadelphia – it’s incredible. Phenomenal actually.”

Go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go
From Stacy Bromberg, America’s long-time number one among the ladies: “Helen is everything a lady and a dart player can aspire to be. I, personally, will always hold her in the highest esteem. She is truly a ‘class act’ as well as a great role model!”

Carolyn Mars, currently the nation’s number two: “Helen is an amazing woman who, at 81, can still throw amazing darts. I admire her greatly for all her pioneering efforts and sportsmanship.”

Tina DiGregorio, ranked third: “I love Helen. I absolutely adore her. To repeat what she’s just done I’ll have to be shooting better than I am today in the year 2047!”

Amazing?

To comprehend just how amazing it is for someone born in 1923 to achieve what Scheerbaum has in 2004 (let alone to most likely continue doing it for another decade or more) one must remind themselves that the closest the vast majority of Scheerbaum’s generation come to competition is on a shuffleboard court in Miami.

Oh, some would say there are exceptions. But I disagree.

At 77, John Glenn flew into space. Someone strapped him into a rocket and lit the fuse. He took a ride. Surely Scheerbaum could do that.

The first George Bush skydived at 73. Somebody tied a parachute on his back and pushed him out of a plane. He floated to the ground. Big frickin’ deal. Scheerbaum could do that tomorrow.

On turning 70, the Godfather of Fitness, Jack La Lanne, celebrated by towing 70 people in 70 rowboats for a mile along the California coast. For his 80th birthday he planned to swim underwater from Catalina Island to Los Angeles, but he scrubbed the swim because his wife threatened a divorce. “I still plan to try it soon,” La Lanne was quoted recently. “You gotta keep a little challenge going.”

Yeah, right. Want a challenge? Let’s see you throw darts against Scheerbaum. And the same goes for Glenn and Bush. She’ll wipe all yo’ asses! I’ll bet my eyebrows on it.

To put Scheerbaum’s accomplishment into perspective that only her contemporaries, others born during Warren Harding’s presidency, can truly appreciate, consider…

When Scheerbaum was born the price of a gallon of gasoline was eight cents. Life expectancy was 54. Average annual earnings were $1,236. A suit cost $15, cigarettes were 10 cents a pack and a new Ford cost $290. A house cost $6,500. There wasn’t a minimum wage – in fact, by the time Scheerbaum closed out her teenage years it was only 43 cents.

Women had only just achieved the right to vote, Charles Lindbergh was crossing the Atlantic and Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan were debating evolution. It took 13 days to reach California from New York.

Amazing?

Imagine, appearing from out of the mist of time: Bobby Jones, Joe Lewis, Babe Ruth, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Helen Wills Moody and War Admiral. Imagine them appearing, not in the splendor of their youth but at 81 years of age. Imagine them toeing their own kind of line against Tiger Woods, Roy Jones, Jr., Sammy Sosa, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Serena Williams and Smarty Jones. Imagine them kicking ass.

THEN you’ll have a full appreciation for what Scheerbaum has done.

Yes, It’s the Amazing Little Old First Lady of Darts from Philadelphia!

Helen Scheerbaum.

Go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go!
From the Field,
Dartoid

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Dartoid
Author of the column that since 1995 has been featured by Bull’s Eye News, the American Darts Organization’s (ADO) Double Eagle and numerous other darts publications and websites around the globe.
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