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Have darts, will travel

Sheffield’s Breck Fry owes everything to this ‘bar room game’ he loves so much

Photos submitted to Times Observer Breck Fry.

A man walks into a bar.

And he happens to be among the best dart players in the world.

And he’s from Sheffield.

Breck Fry doesn’t play darts as he’s drinking at a local establishment — as is the stereotype.

Breck just returned from the Korean Summer Festival in Goyang, South Korea, where he competed as a member of Phoenix Dart’s Team USA.

Photos submitted to Times Observer Hundreds of electronic dart boards, you see the fronts but they also use the backs, at the exhibition center in Goyang, South Korea.

It wasn’t on a couple of dartboards, with a couple of buddies, in a dark corner if a suljib.

There were hundreds of dart boards with thousands of dart players from all over the world, and Fry was nearly trampled to death when a Korean rapper that was all the rage took the stage at the opening ceremonies.

Yes, there were opening ceremonies. And, no, he doesn’t know the rapper’s name.

“I didn’t realize what was out there until I left Warren and went to the big tournaments,” said Fry, 51.

“I got started in darts by chance,” he said. “My brother’s team needed a player for their 301 team in Warren. I told them I would give it a try and actually did good as a beginner. That was back in 1997.

Photos submitted to Times Observer Phoenix Darts Team USA, from left, Dayton Strawbridge, Breck Fry, JC Martinez, Kevin Yasenchak, and Johnny K (Johnny Kuczynski).

“I played a few years in the 301 league, but never really practiced much — just throwing once a week,” said Fry. “Then I heard about the bullshooter regional tournament in Pittsburgh and thought I would give it a try. I got beat pretty bad; I just wasn’t ready for a big tournament like that, so I was humbled. (But) that tournament really lit the fire and I was now hooked on darts. I was determined to go back and finish top three and get on the pro list, which I first accomplished in 2007.”

Getting on the pro list has its advantages. Fry is now sponsored by Shot Darts (https://www.shotdarts.com/) and was put up in a hotel in Korea by Phoenix Darts (http://www.phoenixdart.com/us).

That didn’t come by accident. Fry now wakes up in the morning shooting darts and shoots darts before bed. He also plays against dart throwers from all over the world from right here.

“Darts really evolved and took off when the online boards came out,” said Fry. “Now we could play with people from around the world right from here. That’s when Phoenix boards came to town. Phoenix is a board manufacturer from Korea that puts on a huge tournament in Seoul South Korea called the Phoenix Summer Festival. Now, Phoenix here in the states put on two online tournaments to fill four spots for Team USA. They were taking the top two finishers in each tournament, so I hit the board practicing some days for six to eight hours. I finished second in the first qualifier and now playing for Team USA was a reality.”

Fry said it’s been a goal — or dream, rather — since Phoenix started qualifying tournaments eight years ago.

Wouldn’t you know, Fry spent a few hours at Black Jax Sports Bar in Erie, playing online against other competitors in the live qualifying tournament.

“They were all top-notch players,” said Fry. “Those games were coming down to one dart. It was on a Saturday; we started at noon and got done about 8 or 9 (o’clock).”

“Congratulations to our two winners Dayton Strawbridge & Breck Fry in the Summer Festival qualifier. Both players will be representing Team USA at the Korean Summer Festival 2019 in July. There is still a chance for 2 more players to qualify to get on Team USA. Next tournament is on February 23rd, 2019. Please go to www.phoenix-dart.com/summer-festival-2019/rules for more info.”

“Team USA was made up of myself, Dayton Strawbridge and Kevin Yasenchak from Ohio, JC Martinez from Arizona, and our captain Johnny K from Pa.,” said Fry. “We finished top eight in a very strong field of (32) teams (from all over the world). Team matches consisted of doubles 501 double in/double out, a team game of cricket, singles 701 open in/double out, and singles cricket.

If all of those sound like a foreign language, it’s only because you’re still at where Breck started.

“I’m used to a bar where, if you’re lucky, you’ve got two to three boards,” he said.

Fry did throw a hat trick — three consecutive bullseyes — his first night. “If I wouldn’t have done well, I probably wouldn’t have kept playing,” he said of that first night subbing for his brother’s team.

Thank goodness he didn’t quit.

“I have met so many great people through the sport,” said Fry. “Locally, there are some good shooters; one, in particular, is Sean Abbott. When I started playing in Warren, he would beat me every game. I told him I was going to get better and that I would start beating him, which took a while, but eventually, I started beating him. So, early on, he is the one that inspired me to get better.”

Fry has a full-time job and, with a family, it’s difficult to practice as much as some of the world’s best dart players. He said it takes immense hand-eye coordination, good depth perception, and a lot of strategies.

“I think there’s a lot of people, locally, that don’t look at it as a competitive sport,” said Fry.

While we won’t get into the specifics too much, 501 is the standard version of the game in competition and the object is to “check out” by getting your score down to 50 or less before ending the game by reaching zero by either throwing a double or a bullseye with your final dart.

In general, Fry has won prize money, has a sponsor that helps with equipment (even though his sponsor had never heard of Warren County, Pa., “they took a chance on me,” he said), and he has traveled all over the United States and the world to play darts.

So, call it what you want.

“The (Korean) summer festival has some of the best soft-tip players from around the world, and to finish as well as we did was a great accomplishment,” he said. “In all my years playing darts, I’ve won a lot of big tournaments, got to go to the other side of the world, and made so many friends from around the world that darts doesn’t owe me anything, but I owe everything to this bar-room game that I love so much. From here, I have a few big tournaments coming up, but my biggest goal right now is to qualify for Team USA at next year’s Phoenix Summer Festival and improve on my finish there.”

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Rules of Darts (https://www.rulesofsport.com/sports/darts.html):

“Which player takes the first turn in a game is decided by throwing a single dart each with the nearest to the bull taking the first throw.

“A throw consists of throwing three darts unless the game is won in fewer.

“Only darts in the board at the end of the throw are counted and ones that bounce or fall out cannot be thrown again.

“If a player scores more than their remaining points total their throw ends and is scored zero (for example, if they have 16 remaining and accidentally hit a 20 with their first dart).

“The center of the bull should be exactly 5 feet, 8 inches (1.73 meters) high.

“Darts are thrown from a clearly-marked toe-line, often called the oche, at least 7 feet, 9 inches from the board, measured horizontally.”

Winning the Game

“To win, a player must reach zero by hitting a double or a bull, having first got their score down from the 501 starting point. If they do that, they win the leg and the first to three legs wins the set. Most matches are normally played ‘best of’ a defined (odd) number of sets, with the sport’s biggest prize, the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) World Championship, involving a final that is best of 13 (therefore, the winner is the first to seven sets).

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