Column #288 Bob Elliott is one of the GOOD guys!
April 1, 2007
Bob Elliott is one of the GOOD guys!
Sometimes I can’t start writing fast enough. This was the case when I learned about my old friend Bob Elliott.
Elliott and I go back to my early days in darts in the Cape Cod Dart League (CCDL). I was just beginning to venture beyond the comfort zone of “C” league play and into the intimidating world of blind draws.
My early experience was not good. Quite often if I drew one of the better shooters I was treated with disrespect. The added stress of trying my best to shoot well with someone who didn’t want to be my partner caused my darts to fly worse than normal. Regularly I headed home sorry that I’d gone out in the first place.
I remember the time well. I was SO excited about everything. I was constantly trying out new sets of darts and various combinations of shafts and flights. I carried an out-shot chart in my wallet. I watched the better players and soaked up everything I could. Somewhere along the way I settled on a set of darts that felt at home in my hand – Bottelsen 24-gram Hammerhead GTs.
This was a long time ago. Although Elliott and I have spoken briefly at tournaments, until the other day it had really been years since we’d talked at any length. It’s not that I haven’t thought about Elliott. I have, many times – because Elliott was always one of the GOOD guys, one of the darters who treated me right when I was just learning the game, who inspired me to stick with it. The time or two I drew Elliott at blind draws he treated me like an equal.
He helped me. He made me feel good.
The ironic thing is that it was a set of GTs, albeit an entirely different set than the one I packed away in 1996 when I switched to a set of Jeff Pickup custom-made darts, that brought Elliott and these old memories back to my mind.
Were it not for these GTs I might not have learned how sick Bob Elliott is today, with tumors in his brain and spine.
I might not know about the dart tournament being held at the Braintree, Massachusetts Moose Lodge on April 21 to raise funds to help the Elliott family cover mounting medical expenses (currently over $40,000).
Certainly if it were not for the GTs and the remarkable story that surrounds them you would not be reading this today.
You may recall that back in the late 1980s and early 1990s Hammerheads with their retractable points were selling like crazy. Along with me and thousands of other people who shelled out the hundred-plus dollar price tag to own a set were Doug Melanson from Massachusetts and Bob Richardson (now president of Darts Ontario).
But also from Ontario was someone named Judy Smelko and she figures prominently in this story…
One night at league a teammate, Andy Miller, let Smelko try his GTs. “I loved them the moment I touched them,” she recalled. “He wasn’t surprised. He told me that when he first handled them his reaction was exactly the same.” But the darts were owned by Richardson…
Miller then explained to Smelko that Richardson offered to give him GTs. “But there was a condition: he had to agree to pass them on when he found someone who loved them as much as he did.”
“That turned out to be me,” Smelko said. “But of course they were given to me with the same condition: that I continue the tradition when I found someone deserving.”
Smelko used the darts for many years, until just last year when she found that special person, “a fantastic darter and true gentleman of the game, Graham Waite.” Of course, Waite accepted them with the same time-honored condition.
While all this was going on in Canada, Melanson was feeling the same way about his GTs. He even won a Minute Man Darts League (MMDL) state championship with his set before retiring from the game in the late 1990s.
Back in Canada, about a year after giving away her GTs Smelko began to miss them. She missed them a LOT. So she found an Internet darts forum – http://www.SEWA-darts.com – and started a thread offering to buy a used set of GTs from anyone who might have a set they were willing to sell.
The short story is that Melanson saw the post.
He had picked up the game again in 2004, dug his old darts out of a drawer, found that they no longer felt comfortable, shoved them back into the drawer, and started using a different set. Being the kind of guy he is, Melanson contacted Smelko, a few e-mails ensued, and Melanson continued the “tradition” by sending his old GTs to Smelko free of charge. Of course Smelko was thrilled.
Normally this is where strange little stories end… but not this one.
This past November, a message appeared from Smelko on Melanson’s computer screen. Smelko had won a set of new Unicorn Latinum darts in a SEWA trivia contest (she correctly answered “Dartoid” to the question “Who is the crappiest writer on the planet?”).
Smelko wrote to inform Melanson that, in thanks for his past generosity, she had arranged with Unicorn’s Ed Lowy to send the Latinums to him instead of her. “I was amazed,” said Melanson, “that my small gift to her came back to me.”
Again, you might think this would be a good place for such a story to end. Not so…
In January of this year, Melanson was out throwing darts and had an opportunity to try a set of Latinums just like the set that was soon to arrive from England, but they felt slippery. Also that night he had a chance to throw the same darts but in the John Part Champion Golden model. Melanson liked these much better.
Believing that the Latinums were on back order, Melanson contacted Lowy and asked if he would consider swapping a set of Goldens for the Latinums. Those who know Lowy will not be surprised that he was more than receptive.
Lowy explained that the Latinums had already shipped, apologized for the delay, and offered to send Melanson a complimentary set of the Goldens and a free Unicorn Eclipse Trainer dartboard. So soon Melanson had two sets of brand new Unicorn darts.
A month later Melanson’s telephone rang. On the line was Tom O’Connor, another Massachusetts darter and friend who frequently runs local tournaments. O’Connor mentioned a benefit tournament he was organizing for a darter who was sick, had no insurance, and whose family was being buried by medical bills. As a part of the benefit, there was to be a raffle.
The next day Melanson donated to the tournament the Latinums that Smelko had sent him in gratitude for the GTs.
THIS is where I first learned of the story (Melanson and O’Connor both sent me e-mails explaining the remarkable journey of the GTs I have just described).
But this is also when I noticed something odd: the benefit tournament was being billed as the Elliott Family Dart Tournament. It was being held in Braintree, Massachusetts.
I wondered: Could it be?
Immediately I fired an e-mail back to both Melanson and O’Connor. “Hey – I’ve read all this stuff. Maybe I can do something with it. It’s an interesting story. But I have to ask, by any chance is the Elliott family involved in some way connected to Bob Elliott? I used to know a Bob Elliott from Cape Cod.”
Of course the answer was that it was.
And of course this is why I couldn’t start writing this story fast enough.
The other day I spoke with Elliott. I also talked with his wife, Starr. Things change SO much with time – the Elliott I knew, who in 1988 sat in a chair smirking while I interviewed his roommate, Charlie McDevitt, was not the kind of guy I ever expected would put down his darts long enough to actually get married. It sorted itself out though – he found a girl who was equally obsessed with the game.
Elliott took up darts because a heart condition prevented him from participating in other sports. “I always liked the strategy involved in games like chess and Othello,” he told me. “Darts was just a natural for me.”
“It’s been good to me too,” he continued. “I’ll never forget the eleven-darter I shot in the finals at Clipper City. You never forget a game like that! But more than the darts what I have enjoyed are the people. That’s what has meant the most to me.”
“How can I forget Bruce Barrian who showed me the basics or Sandy Williams who taught me strategy and etiquette? How could I forget Stephen Maguire, my friend and nemesis for all these years, or all of my teammates at the Moose Militia? How could I forget shooters like John Part, Tim Grossman, and Stacy Bromberg – to mention just a few – who took the time to talk with me and help me learn the game? They didn’t have to do that…”
That’s when I told Elliott something I’d never told him before, something you already know if you’ve read this far: that he is one of the few people who mean to me what the people he mentioned mean to him.
I think he was surprised to hear this. “I’m glad to hear that,” he said simply, “because that’s the kind of person I’ve tried to be.”
I asked him how he was feeling…
“I’ve had better days, believe me,” he replied, “but this too shall pass.”
He then explained that, contrary to rumor, he did not have cancer. “I really hope you can let people know this. I’m going to be around for a whole lot more eleven darters.”
“What I have are horrible medical bills. Because of my heart condition medical insurance was not something I could ever really afford. What I have are benign tumors but I also have a long road ahead and the bills are going to keep mounting.”
“I have my pride. I always have.”
“But I also have a beautiful wife, Starr, two beautiful daughters, Kelly and Shannon, and a stepson, Zachariah. Oh, and there’s my turtle.”
“I’m a family guy first – my family always has and always will come before darts.”
“I can’t express sincerely enough how deeply I appreciate what all of my friends from darts are doing to help me and my family through this financial crisis.”
So there you have it – a simple story really but one that, stereotypes notwithstanding, is typical within the darts community…
Here’s how Tom O’Connor summed it up in his final e-mail message to me: “A sick child, an ailing teammate, or cancer research – it’s all the same to darts players. They know they’ll be doing good for someone.”
“Those same players may walk right past the Salvation Army bucket at Christmastime or flip past the Jerry Lewis Telethon without picking up the phone to pledge. Rather than send a check to one of those charities that send the self-addressed address labels and are only looking for a few bucks, they may keep the labels.”
“Are we any different from society as a whole? I think we’re a reflection of it to be sure, just as any large group of people would be, but I see more of that in darters. I see a sometimes fanatical bond between people who are both best friends and arch rivals. Darts players are fiercely loyal to each other. That’s where darters make a difference for themselves, their family, and friends.”
I couldn’t have put it any better…
I encourage everyone who reads this to make your way to the Braintree, Massachusetts, Moose Lodge (175 Howard Street) on April 21 to support the Elliott Family Dart Tournament. “Game on!” is at 11:00 a.m.
If you cannot attend but still wish to help one of the GOOD guys here is how you can contribute…
A special fund has been established at TD Banknorth. Just make your check out to the Elliott Family Fund (and note the account number: 8244532847) and mail it to TD Banknorth’s Massachusetts headquarters at P.O. Box 431, Haverhill, Massachusetts, 01831.
You can be sure that your $10, $25, $50, $100 (or even more, if you can afford it) contribution will be gratefully appreciated and go a long way towards helping the Elliott darts family make it through this crisis.
Please try to be as generous as you can.
From the Field,
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