Looking at the board 25 feet away, Carolyn Crum readies her shot, aiming for second base but hoping for more.
She takes a step forward and tosses a dart underhanded — as if throwing a softball pitch. The dart nearly hits the ceiling and lands low of her target.
Not that Crum complains; she scored a home run.
Even when her dart lands for an out, though, Crum doesn’t complain. Neither do the 11 other participants playing dartball with her early on a Tuesday afternoon in the Washington Senior Center.
“Some of us are just out there to have fun,” Crum, 68, explained. “We bring our own personalities.”
Every Tuesday and Friday, a group congregates in a corner of the center to play the game, a hybrid of sorts between darts and softball.
Players stand behind a foul line 25 feet away from a 4-foot by 4-foot board with several squares varying in size painted on it. An 8-inch square denotes first base, while the second base square is 7 inches. Third base is 6 inches and the 4-inch home run square is located in the center of the board, beneath second base.
Darts are about 7 inches in length with feathers on one end and a steel tip on the other. A dart landing in white squares between the bases is a strike, while brown areas are balls and red areas — strikes. A white border around all the bases represents foul territory.
Errors, sacrifice bunts and double plays each are designated with a 3-inch square.
While participants at the senior center play recreationally, they have a designated scorekeeper as well as a player standing near the board to determine which square the dart lands in. Statistics are compiled and stored in the center’s office, with monthly prizes for the most home runs. Usually, the reward is a free meal.
Unlike the Washington Dartball League, a men-only group that inspired local women to create their own female-only group, everyone plays together in the senior center, where cards are drawn to determine the teams. Two games are played, with both lasting nine innings — unless there’s a tie, of course.
Lester Peffermann, a retired salesman from Krakow, has played for more than 20 years after his wife, Betty, introduced him to the game. They still play together, teasing each other across the room if they’re on competing teams, especially after home runs.
“Nobody cries over it,” Peffermann, 74, said. “Everybody’s pretty friendly.”
For these players, the social aspect is most important, not the final score. Averaging about 12 players per game, dartball at the senior center can range from just a few participants up to more than 15. But, the more players the better, Peffermann said.
“With six people, it’s no fun, too up and down.”
The fun and fellowship attracted Crum, who joined the senior center when it opened in June 2005 in its current location in the lower level of the Elks Club at 1459 W. Fifth St. An avid bowler and painter, she noticed a dartball game a few years ago and hasn’t quit since.
“I just enjoy talking to other people,” Crum said. “It’s necessary for seniors. We need to be around other people.”
Debbie Steagall, a coordinator with the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging, said it’s important for seniors to get out of the house “instead of sitting in front of a TV and becoming a couch potato.”
When they come to the center and participate in various activities, including dartball and line dancing, it gets their blood flowing a bit more.
“They can get pretty rambunctious,” Steagall said.
After working at Schroeder Drugs for more than 40 years, Bernie Esser, 88, and his wife, Sadie, ran out of things to do so they decided to come to the center and try their hand in dartball.
“We decided not to quit and keep doing things and be active,” Bernie Esser said.
As the second game winds down, the dartball board fills up with holes, but fresh ones are barely noticeable among hundreds of scabs collected over the years. The ceiling isn’t immune, either, as wayward shots arcing a little too high leave their own mark on the center.
One of the sprinklers in the ceiling is even protected.
Discussion gradually shifts away from the game and, once it’s concluded, include topics such as World War II.
Esser and Jim Geoghegan, 85, enjoy reliving their experiences in the South Pacific, times that seem to continue to humble the two men today as they play dartball.
“I’m a happy-go-lucky guy,” Geoghegan said. “I have a bad heart, doesn’t matter. It’s all up to the guy upstairs.”