Column #536 The Junior Dart Association

Monday, May 1, 2017
Column #536
The Junior Dart Association

There’s so much positive going on in the wide world of darts these days. At the top of the list for many is the recent announcement that yours truly will stop writing about our sport – just as soon as my 1001st column hits this space. Extrapolating from 1995 when my first column appeared this will occur in approximately May 2038, by which time the ADO may have published a proper financial statement. Perhaps not. Buster Douglas knocked out Muhammad Ali, so anything’s possible.

Uppermost among other positive developments are the return of the PDC to Las Vegas and launch of the CDC’s third season. Every player in North America should take full advantage of all that is on offer.

There’s more but lesser known news which deserves to be widely broadcast – and I’m not talking about RedEye Rhino’s rumored pending announcement that they are now “full partners” with the MGM and have “sold out” the fourth Ali vs. Frazier fight and Elvis’ return later this summer.

Nope, what I am talking about is the Junior Dart Association (JDA) way up north in the state that fields pee wee football players against Ohio State each November. Check out the feature photo at the top of this column to get a sense of the excitement. The photo was taken at the 2015 Meijer State Games of Michigan and featured in a story by Peter Wallner (who was contacted to authorize it’s use).

The cool cat and certain to be future lady killer with the fedora and snappy shirt is Nickolas Osmolinski, son of Christi and Steve Osmolinski. Nicholas is one of the original youth league members. He has a scholarship fund and has a string of victories under his belt already. Although only in the 4th grade he’s proficient at a 10th math level – an achievement credited in large part to his participation in darts. Nicknamed the Wizard of Fries, it’s no surprise that his favorite player is Simon Whitlock.

Scratching his chin hair at Nicholas’ left is Brody Offutt, Willy Doit’s nephew. Brody’s a professional football “fanatic” (his favorite player is Odell Beckham Jr.) and Phil Taylor fan.

The adult in the photo is Alex Worthington (I believe from Battle Creek), one of the many members of the Michigan Dartsmen Club. I am told one of Worthington’s claims to fame is that he lost 5-0 to John Part in one of last season’s CDC qualifiers (after getting by Russ Lyzak in the first round). While a loss isn’t usually something to brag about, losing to a three-times world champion may well be the exception to the rule. And it’s damn well a credit to Part that he’s giving back and helping the CDC bring Big Time darts to North America.

While the JDA is the brainchild of David and Kerry DePriest in Grand Rapids, the youth darts concept – and what eventually became the JDA – was and continues to be enthusiastically supported by the Grand Rapids Dart League (GRDL). For a solid two years the GRDL funded and supported the concept, even adding youth events to their tournaments (these were the only available youth events available in Michigan until the JDA became official). Also supportive every step of the way have been super-promoter Doit and many others from the Michigan Dartsmen Club.

In short, the JDA is a shining example of what can be done to inspire kids and families to embrace the sport of darts – and much, much more. In fact, in many ways darts at the JDA is just a pathway to far more important aspects of life. Below (“Scholarships, Competition, and Community”) the DePriests explain the JDA philosophy…

Scholarships. The JDA is a vehicle parents can use to open important conversations with their children about the future. Financial planning and setting educational goals early are invaluable assets to any child. But a child that is highly involved and takes ownership of their financial and educational planning is much more likely to continue their education.

In this way we seek to not only provide scholarship funds, but to also create a culture where education takes priority and builds self-esteem. Many children are excited to save up their allowance to buy the new game system etc. We want to help children get excited to save and buy an education, an experience, a degree, put simply a lasting advantage in life.

Competition. At the JDA we believe in healthy competition and sportsmanship. We don’t believe in participation awards or that everyone deserves a trophy. Instead, we want our young men and women to learn the value of hard work and be awarded for their accomplishments appropriately. In this way, we harness the competitive fire to forge a much more formidable and capable mentality.

It is important young people understand in order to excel in life you must work hard and be determined. Developing this work ethic at a young age is a major advantage not only in darts but throughout one’s whole lifetime.

The JDA Scholarship Program gives children the platform to succeed and be rewarded for their accomplishments. As the children gain self-esteem through competition and attaining goals, they realize the possibility of attaining even loftier goals. In the end, we hope these advantages will create a more confident, determined, educated, and ultimately successful adult.

Community. At the JDA we believe in community and building a culture that stresses education, financial planning, and the setting and achievement of goals. Like any youth sports organization our real strength lies in the families, parents, coaches, staff, and volunteers. As we grow we hope that the culture will also grow as well.

Imagine hundreds and then thousands of junior dart players earning money for college and being excited to further their education which they have earned with years of hard work! It is our dream to build a better future for our young people and to build a better sport for all of us.

I first “met” David DePriest in 2006 when I interviewed him after he qualified in Chicago for the World Series of Darts (defeating Joe Slivan who qualified a couple of weeks later in Houston). We then formally met at the tournament at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Connecticut and again at the Shoot the Rapids tournament just a couple years ago. So, we don’t know each other well – but I was impressed from the start. Surely anyone who does know him well is not surprised that he’s developed the JDA. He’s one incredibly motivated guy.

DePriest first picked up a dart at home at just 9 years of age, was tutored in the mechanics and mathematics of the sport by his mother Carol (who in 1982 helped form the GRDL and competed locally and nationally), and progressed and achieved considerable success in the ADO system. This was long before the IRS revoked the ADO Memorial Scholarship Fund’s (for kids) status in 2010 after multiple years of not filing required reports (although as of this writing the ADO website still, illegally, promotes donations to the program as tax deductible). This plus the fact that the fund was originally established as “a permanent memorial to friends of the sport who have passed away” and that the ADO has not published the awarding of any scholarships since 2014 only adds to the disgrace.

DePriest’s story is remarkable and every step of the way it foretells the foundation of what is today the JDA.

Darts “game night” with his mother on a board she hung on the living room wall quickly replaced DePriest’s interest in watching television and video games. Although he was involved in baseball, basketball and football – and martial arts – “darts night” with his mother was a constant in his life. By age 11 he was competing in the men’s division and achieving success and by age 13 he was ranked in the top 10 in the Michigan men’s division state rankings. At 17, he qualified for the $100,000 Lucky Strikes Challenge of Champions on ESPN but was excluded because he was not yet 18.

Martial arts is mentioned, seemingly in passing, only because it deserves to be highlighted. With many state and national championships under his belt, in 1995 DePriest placed second at the ISKA world championships. This is a dude not to be screwed with!

As time advanced and his sons Alex and Greyson joined the family “darts night” became a staple for a new generation of DePriests. In 2015, before his third son Gideon was born he of course joined “darts night” in utero.

As some are aware, years ago DePriest took a young 12-year-old under his wing. The rest as they say is history. In 2009, in Stamford, Connecticut, Robert Ham won the US National Youth Championship and the Youth World Cup Qualifier – and went on to take the bronze at the World Cup (the highest finish ever by a US youth player).

What most people don’t know is that DePriest did not agree to coach Ham without conditions (and just like the family aspects of “darts night” the conditions sort of forecasted one of the underlining principles of the JDA). “I agreed to personally coach Robert and teach him what I knew about darts. But there were conditions. His grades were not in the best of repair. He had to maintain at least a B average and complete his darts homework and turn it in before each lesson. Robert’s grades immediately improved and he never failed to turn that homework in to me.”

There is more history. Ham has gone on to win several national tournaments and owns back-to-back Michigan men’s state singles championships. Last year, he made the quarter finals at his first go on the CDC circuit. As partners, Ham and DePriest have won the Michigan men’s doubles three years in a row.

And now, Ham has taken a lead role passing on lessons learned from DePriest to a new generation of kids. Observes DePriest, “The advice and perspective he brings to the JDA program is invaluable. It is such a benefit to the youth players to have a national champion and world competitor as a personal coach. As Robert’s coach I couldn’t be more proud seeing him give back to the community and sport in such a meaningful way.”

There is SO much more and so many people who have been a part of this story…

There’s Steve Roper who early on in DePriest’s career ran a VFW hall and welcomed the kids to play and compete in a safe and family environment. Says DePriest, “Steve’s gesture illustrated to me at a young age what a difference a little kindness and patience can make to a young person. I ran into him at darts just the other night. It was a warm feeling to thank him as a man for the support he showed me so many years ago. And to tell him about our program and our goals.”

There’s Jay Tomlinson, who in 1990 made the decision to feature youth players, including DePriest, on the cover of Bulls Eye News. “I was fortunate to be one of those players and later that year was given a full color 3-page interview as well. It was a powerful gesture to feature youth players at a time when that had never been done before. Jay deserves so much credit for promoting youth darts in the early days.” .

Recently, DePriest committed to be ready to again compete at the highest level against the best in the world when the PDC returns to Las Vegas in July. He’s going to surprise a lot of people.

When I interviewed DePriest more than 10 years ago there was a comment he made that has stuck with me, nearly verbatim, for all these years: “At the end of the day, I believe the man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both correct. I’m a man who thinks he can.”

It is this same attitude that the JDA is instilling in the kids.

The JDA was officially formed in May 2016 and plans to hold the first tournament began in earnest. A non-profit organization was set up with the help of legal and accounting consultants. Details of the scholarship fund were sorted out. Sponsors were recruited.

Key to everything was transparency and ensuring the money kids might win for college was under the control of their parents and there when they needed it.

So besides competition and community, at the heart of it all are the scholarships.

After considerable research, the JDA chose to embrace the Merrill Lynch “MerrillEDGE” 529 College Savings Plan (NextGen Option). This is the plan parents are asked to set up for the kids.

Named for Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code and established in 1996, 529s are basically tax-advantaged savings accounts for college expenses. “Withdrawals, including any earnings, are tax free as long as the money is used for qualified higher education expenses. Funds can be used for tuition and fees, room and board, books, required supplies and equipment, computers or peripheral equipment, computer software, or Internet access and related services, and certain services for special needs beneficiaries.”

There’s no risk of loss. The JDA pays out the scholarship right away – and the accounts can be added to at any time. They just earn interest until needed. If a kid gets a full ride the funds can be used toward books, room and board, and things of that nature. If a kid doesn’t go to college the funds can be used for a trade school or other certifications. If a kid goes directly into the work force the funds can be transferred to another person, a sibling perhaps.

It’s a winner all the way around.

The JDA established two basic divisions for the kids – 12 and under and 13 to 17. There are singles, doubles, and mixed doubles events. All events are 501, cricket, choice.

So far, the JDA has held two tournaments (the next one is June 3 at the Northfield Lanes in Grand Rapids) and 15 kids have won scholarships totaling a little more than $2,400. Sponsorship/advertising opportunities are available at three levels. For details about sponsorship (or to discuss any questions you might have about organizing a similar program in your community) contact:

David DePriest at davedepriest@gmail.com
“It’s a great little family we have,” Kerry DePriest told me in one of our last communications. “I’ve had so many parents thank us and express to me this is the part of their lives where they feel the most comfortable and accepted and they look forward to playing darts every week and hanging out with their friends. It’s a very accepting and inviting group, a really great bunch of kids.”

I fired back one last message…

“Great. What a fantastic program. Thanks for all of your help. I have two last questions: 1) if I screw this up will you please not let Dave karate chop me in the eye, and 2) I’m 60 – but I throw like a 6-year-old so… can I enter the next tournament?”

She reiterated the under 18 age limit. And closed with, “DON’T screw it up!”

I hope I haven’t. And I hope youth programs all across the country can benefit from the Michigan experience. Maybe even the ADO.

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.