On Target|Johnny Upton heads to Vegas for national tournament

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It just didn’t feel like Johnny Upton’s day.

The darts he could usually put where he wanted felt wrong coming out of his hand. His concentration didn’t seem to be what it needed to. And yet, after hours of tossing darts at the board about eight feet away, he was still playing.

Follow the national tournament by clicking here.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

On into the night, as fatigue started to set in, he was still playing. And finally, almost 12 hours and 100 games after he started, Upton couldn’t play any more. There was no one left to beat.

Upton, a 60-year-old Vicksburg resident, survived the grueling American Darts Organization’s regional tournament in November. His prize is a second trip in three years to Las Vegas for the ADO’s national tournament on Jan. 23.

“It’s a miracle. I practiced a lot the last two or three years. I’ve got my good days and bad. I can give it a good do when I have a good day,” Upton said, adding that his earlier trip to the national finals in 2006 will help him some this time. “I think I’ll be a lot more settled in this time. I won’t be as scared to compete on that level.”

Upton’s game of choice is cricket, in which players must hit a series of targets on the board — Nos. 15-20 — before their opponents do the same. After hitting each of the required numbers three times, a player must also hit three bull’s-eyes.

Upton said there’s a mental aspect to cricket that isn’t present in other games. He also joked that he prefers a scattershot approach to the game rather than shooting at the same target over and over.

“I love cricket. You have to shoot a lot of different numbers. In 501, it’s just throwing at the triple 20 every time until you go out,” Upton said, referring to another darts game in which the object is to score as many points as possible before finishing with a specific target. “I just seem to have better luck throwing at all of them.”

Upton’s had plenty of luck over the years. He started playing darts in 1994, and eventually moved to Vicksburg and joined the Vicksburg Darts Association. He won the 75-member league’s championship in 2005, advancing to the regional and then the national finals the following January.

This year he again won the VDA’s cricket championship at Smajstrla’s Pivo Bar on Highway 61 North, and again won the regional in Hammond, La. It wasn’t easy, though.

A total of 32 league champions from Mississippi and Louisiana qualified for the ADO’s Region 3-3 tournament. The round-robin tournament required him to play three games each against the other players — 96 games in all — and took more than 12 hours to play out. When he emerged the winner, Upton was as surprised as anyone.

“I didn’t think I was going to win it. I just didn’t feel like I was on my game,” Upton said of the regional. “The more games I play, the better I get, I guess.”

Now he’ll head to Vegas to try his luck against some of the best in the country. The competition there will make the regional look easy, Upton said, but that tends to bring his own game up a notch.

“The better competition you shoot against, the better you’ll be prepared. I always play better against better competition,” he said. “You know if you miss a dart, they’re going to get after you. Two or three bad darts and it’s over.”

At least they do it with a smile, Upton added with a laugh.

“Everybody is just real nice,” he said. “Even if they were beating the crap out of you, they were real nice.”


Contact Ernest Bowker at ebowker@vicksburgpost.com.