The tips of the darts drilled into the bull’s-eye circle as Aramando Iron Elk carefully released each one from his hand.
His precision knocked off 103 points for his team, who erupted into celebration during the 27th annual South Dakota State Dart Tournament on Sunday afternoon. Competing in their division’s championship match, Iron Elk and the rest of the Reliance Bar NC Aces were racing to drop their score from 501 points to zero before their opponents, Shipwreck Sharpshooters.
And, the NC Aces -- Iron Elk, Clint Eastman, Rose Mendoza and Fidel Mendoza -- nailed it.
“It was good. It was tough, but we hung in there. We weren’t even expected to make it out of the first and second rounds,” Eastman said.
The family team started competing in the state tournament 11 years ago and played in the national tournament four times, Eastman said.
“It’s all about winning championships and bragging rights,” said Eastman, smiling.
Although the Shipwreck Sharpshooters from Madison were not pleased with their loss, they did not mind second place and planned to return for their third year as a team.
“We didn’t lose a game until now,” said Matt Jeratowski, as he packed up his darts.
Considering the extensive competition, the Shipwreck Sharpshooters certainly did not have much to be upset about for claiming second place in one of the 16-team divisions.
Tournament director Britt Bruner said 640 four-person teams, 431 doubles pairs and 592 singles players competed in the five-day tournament at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. With about 3,300 sanctioned dart players from bar leagues across the state showing up, the South Dakota tournament is the world’s largest 501-dart game tournament, Bruner said.
“About one-fourth of the players every year are new,” Bruner said.
In fact, about 1 in 10 South Dakotans are registered as players with the National Dart Association, Bruner said.
“There is nothing else to do in South Dakota in the winter,” said Bruner, with a smile. “There are more sanctioned dart players in South Dakota than any other state.”
To compete in the state tournament, teams must complete 30 games before the first of the year. The teams are divided into 16 divisions based on skill level by their game scores and previous state tournament scores, Bruner said. Teams must play in 92 games to qualify for the national dart tournament; South Dakota sends about 50 teams to nationals each year, he added.
But, the state tournament is not all about playing darts; philanthropy shares the spotlight.
In the past 13 years, South Dakota dart players have raised about $280,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation with $31,008 being brought in this year, Bruner said.
On Sunday afternoon, the Prophets, a first-year team made up of veteran players from Pierre, claimed another division team championship. Jason Sass said he and his teammates keep coming back to the tournament for the fun of the competition and the sportsmanship shared among teams.
His teammate, Rob Roussel, agreed.
“It was all camaraderie,” Roussel said. “It was so good.”
Contact Holly Meyer at 394-8421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.