By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
"Before I found this place, I had nothing to do here," White says. "It was only me and my wife, and we didn't have the kids then. I was looking for something. I went to a couple of places that had boards, but nothing was going on. Nothing. I'd throw for a while and then I'd say, "OK, Kell, let's go.' Then we went out with a couple of people from Kelly's work, and they said, "Let's go to the Prince of Wales, they have dartboards.' I talked to a few guys who told me about darts in the city. And I said, "OK, let's get serious again.' That was it."
"The change was that he had more time on his hands," says his wife, Kelly. "He was basically doing nothing with his time. He was a little stir-crazy. Within the first week [after coming to the Bay Area], he was saying, "I gotta find a pub.'"
Players often credit White's arrival for the competitive growth in local darts, a change borne out by the number of players with national rankings: Five locals now reside safely among the top 50 players in the country. White is currently ranked 44th in the nation, but he's only been gathering points for the second half of last year; ADO rules demand that you live in the U.S. for a full three years before receiving ADO ranking points. David Hoag has been playing darts for 14 years, and he remembers White's arrival at the Eagles Drift Inn. "He started coming here on Friday nights and boom, he blows away everybody for eight weeks in a row," he says. "Now it's a struggle to win this. It can't just be a situation where Chris comes in every week and beats up on people. We've got to play better."
"There was nobody who struck the fear of God into me," says White of his competition. "But now it's improved, it's definitely improved a lot. It's probably ... I want to say 100 percent better, but no. I'd say it's about 50 percent better, for sure."
"When he showed up, everybody got better," says Alex Plachutin, one of the SFDA's up-and-coming players. The SFDA's A league is broken up into six teams playing in a dozen local bars; before this season, Plachutin had a chance to have White on his team but passed. You learn more playing against him. "Alex was always a good shooter," says Robert Adams, who spent the last year practicing to climb out of B league and into A. "But when Chris showed up, Alex stepped his game up. A lot of people took Chris' playing as a cue to pick up their game -- I know I did. Or not to play anymore."
The competitive aspect can be as intense as any sport -- and just as conducive to trash-talking. "Darts is as mental as you want it to be," says ADO President Dr. Roger J. Bick, an associate professor of pathology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. "There are things you can do to your opponent. You can cough behind him, say something in his ear. Throw him off."
White himself was thrown off during his early 20s in Canada. "I was nervous," he says. "I was losing to guys, and I was getting all this pressure I never felt before and I was losing to everybody. I was playing horrible. I've never had dartitis or anything, but it was a little bit like that."
"It's when you bring your arm back and try to release the dart and ... and you just can't do it. It's a bitch to get rid of. It's all in your head -- you just can't release the dart. It's totally mental. It's this horrible, demoralizing thing." In 1998, Middlesex University psychologist Linda Duffy explained it to the London Guardianthis way: "It can be linked to a traumatic experience and an inability to cope with stress. There is an overload on the system and it just shuts down. It seems to affect only target activities rather than team sports."
Must be a hard thing to get your head around.
"I don't know, I don't know," Chris White says. "I've never had it."
Last March, Chris White made the cover of the Bull's-Eye News, thanks to a strong pair of wins in men's doubles in the Las Vegas Open. He followed that up with a strong quarterfinal showing in the Golden Harvest in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the largest tournament in North America. In August, he won the American Darts Organization's national championship in Cleveland. The ADO's press release announcing his win declared that "White, a stay-at-home dad, has been quietly making a name for himself since moving to the U.S., and is expected to contend for international teams."
Either individually or as part of a U.S. team, his focus is now on traveling to as many internationally sanctioned matches as possible, building his reputation, gathering points, and bolstering his confidence. Which Kelly White supports. "I'll criticize him a lot because I want to see him play well. If he comes home and lost to somebody, I'll be a little nasty. I'll tell him, "Why are you letting that guy beat you?'"