DAN WILLIAM PEEK
SPECIAL TO PHILLYDARTS.COM
It was about a year after I had decided to write To The Point: The
Story of Darts in America that the enormity of the subject began
to impress itself on me. Millions of people have played some form of the
sport during the century that has passed since the introduction of darts in
the United States. The genius of the darts culture in America, until very
recently, has been that of a grass-roots activity, driven by thousands of
unpaid, local promoters and fueled by an oral tradition rife with legend and
apocrypha. Each darts locale has its own heroes and legends. The story of
darts in America was, I suddenly realized, huge and, in and of itself,
I had already partially solved this story management problem through the
discovery that most of the characters I was encountering were archetypical
in nature. You'll probably be happy to know that I am not going to get into
that issue in this article. The second solution may seem obvious but took me
awhile to get. I call it the "rule of lists".
As I researched darts in America, I had developed a list of players and
promoters who had contributed to the sport's growth. So I began keeping
score. If someone was mentioned three times by informants or in the media, I
moved them to my "B" list. Those on this list would probably be featured,
somehow, in the book. From this list, I developed an "A" list, people who
would likely be profiled in the book. Of course, this method was not
perfect, it depended on my personal access to information and my judgment in
the final prioritizing of characters. This imperfection was amplified by the
commercial considerations involved in the publication of a book of this type
- which is to say, the number of pages of said book must be in the lower
Some characters, though, emerged immediately, their story demanding to
be told. At the head of this class was Philadelphia's
Al Lippman, a
remarkable dart shooter and perhaps even more remarkable man.
Al was one of America's first generation of superstars of British-style
darts - most of whom were from the Philadelphia area. There was, for
example, Bob Thiede, a superstar by any standard. According to an August
1974 article in the Wall Street Journal, Thiede was the first American to
endorse a dart model and actually made a test television commercial for a
salad dressing ("Wishbone hits the mark"). There were also super-shooters
like Silberzahn, Scheerbaum, Fischer, Baltadonis, Wobensmith, Valleto,
Daniels and a host of other Philadelphians who held sway on the hockey in
the early days of British darts in America.
It is not difficult to pinpoint the primary reason for the Philadelphian
mastery of British-style darts, when that form of the sport became popular
in the United States in the 1970's. A darts culture has existed in
Philadelphia and the surrounding region for nearly as long as modern British
darts has existed. The difference was that Philadelphia darts was the
American-style sport, generally known as "Widdies"
or "Woodies". Widdies has been shot in most the neighborhood taverns and
corner pubs of Philadelphia since at least the 1920's. So it was that the
Philly shooters of the 1970's were known for deadly accuracy and a disregard
for the finer points of counting (which is not a requirement of
American-style baseball darts).
Here is part of writer Steven Warner's early 1970's take on the
."....I notice he (Tex Blackwood) uses cheap, old-fashioned wooden darts
and the winners on two other boards are also using the woodies. Wooden darts
are a sign that the players from Philadelphia have arrived. Philly dart
throwers are the best in the country....".
Of course most of the Philadelphians gradually adopted the British-style,
metal darts, and did so without taking anything off their game. A number of
Philadelphian's contributed much to the "Darts Explosion" of the 1970's. But
Al Lippman stood out. He was, reportedly, the equal of any dart shooter of
his day, perhaps of any day. It was, however, the esteem with which he was,
and is to this day, regarded as a person that caught my attention.
I did not meet or interview Al Lippman - he died in 1976. Nearly thirty
years after his death, though, his name is still known to many, some of whom
had not yet been born when he died. Not only is Al Lippman remembered as a
great darts shooter but as a fine person. I don't know how he came to
develop the kind of honorable personal comportment that all of the stories I
heard, or read, bestow upon him.
I wish I had met Al - I wish I could be more like him. I wish I could
always find in myself the consistent, quiet dignity with which he seemed to
have been innately gifted.
In To The Point you will read the wonderful story Ellie Nicoll
told me about Al and some of the stories about "The Iceman" and his
accomplishments that I took from media accounts and the oral tradition of
darts in this country. Ellie, by the way, is the matriarch of Ohio's Nicoll
family, sometimes known as "America's First Family of Darts".
Here is sampling of the media descriptions of Al that I came across in
researching To The Point:
"They tell the story about the late 'Iceman' Al Lippman, who owned a
Fishtown corner bar and could shoot darts like a magician."
Philadelphia Inquirer, January 6, 1978.
"This is the first time I've seen Lippman. He's short, double-chinned,
and has a gentle smile. His shirt collar is open and his sleeves are rolled
up halfway to the elbows. Lippman's arms, like Birdstekers's have elaborate
tattoos on them....Lippman beat
Fischer three games to two for the (1973 Cleveland Extravaganza)
"I've seen a grain of rice with the United States Constitution engraved on
it. I've seen a 250 page novel without a word that contained the letter E.
I've seen a man ride a unicycle across a piano wire while juggling a dozen
flaming torches and balancing a glass of champagne on his nose. And I've
seen the way Ray Fischer and Al Lippman throw darts - if a fly landed on the
board, either of them could nail it down with a flick of the wrist."
Atlantic Monthly, August 1973 ("Nietzsche Would Have Been A Great
Dart Player" by Steven Warner).
"Al Lippman, two time United States Champion, passed away this past
"Lippman was one of the top American Dart Shooters in the Philadelphia
area for many years. Before moving over to the English Game in the early
"His feat of back to back National Championships will stand alone for a
long time to come. Al lived up to his nickname "The Iceman". In the 1973 and
1974 News of the World Finals in London. He may have been the first American
to be taken seriously as a world threat.
"Although Al was a fierce competitor and known for his 'cool' under
pressure, he was also known for his patience and his willingness to teach
anyone who had a question...."
Mugs Away - the newsletter of the Minuteman Dart League (Boston) -
Al Lippman was one of the many people, all across the country, who I came
to know and admire through my research and writing of a book on the story of
darts in America. I am hoping to learn more about him this fall when Joy
and I travel east in November. We plan to visit the Witch City Open in
Boston and then do some events in New York City and in Philadelphia.
Through postings on
I've heard from Al Lippman's daughter and from his nephew, Fred Walker. Fred
posted a question for me about his Uncle's nom de flechettes
- "The Iceman". Fred wanted to know if I knew of any other dart shooters
who were known by that nickname.
Connecticut's Marilyn Popp has "Ice" embroidered on her darts shirts, but
I only know of one other dart shooter known as "The Iceman". That is a young
British superstar by the name of Alan Warriner.
I think Warriner is a worthy namesake for Al. As it happens, I
interviewed Alan in 1994 and that interview brings to mind some of the
attributes that make Al Lippman a legend. Here is an excerpt from To The
Point about dart's current "Iceman":
"....Alan Warriner ...the 32-year-old Englishman who works as a
psychiatric nurse when not shooting world class darts.
"We asked him what his greatest darts experience had been to date. He
said it was just a few months before, after he had won both the British and
the Dutch Opens. There was a small tournament in Lancaster, his hometown. It
was the first time that many of his friends and family had seen him shoot in
"'Everybody came out', he said,' my mother was there. And I won, and I'll
never forget it."
"Hearing the emotion in his voice, we looked up from our notes.
'Isn't that what darts is really about, friends and family?'
"'Yes', Warriner said.
"For this young champion, all the TV coverage, prize money and acclaim
ran a distant second to winning a tournament for his mom. Not that he had to
choose - Warriner handily beat his fellow Brit, Peter Evison, to take the
top purse at the 1994 Witch City Open."
It may be that there will always be - perhaps should always be - an
"Iceman" in darts. Let's hope that any future bearer of the name knows and
honors the value that Al Lippman and now, Alan Warriner, have created in
Last January I traveled to Albany, New York to give a talk on darts and
do a book signing in conjunction with an exhibit of American-style
dartboards at the airport, sponsored by the Office of Cultural Affairs,
Albany International Airport. The talk was well attended and well received.
The ADO's Bert Van Wie was there as were representatives of the local media
and community organizations. There were also several young dart shooters in
attendance. At the book signing program a young man came over and asked me
to autograph an article that had appeared in the Albany paper about the book
and the event. He explained that he was an ardent darts shooter but could
not afford to buy a book at that time. I signed the newspaper article -
short of a blank check, I will sign just about anything. I mentioned to him
- and it seems worthwhile to mention again - that many libraries have a copy
of To The Point on their shelves. If not, many will order the book if
they are asked to do so.
In future articles, in addition to continuing to profile the legendary
figures of darts in America, we will take a look at subjects such as the
role of the west coast's SCDA and Santa Monica Soccer and Social Club in the
establishment of British-style darts in America; the history of the
Cleveland-area darts culture; and the very interesting story of Chicago's
Windy City Darters.
The subject of my next article though, will be what I have characterized
as "the new world order of darts" and how events of the past decade or so
have affected and will continue to affect, the nature of the sport of darts
I look forward to
seeing your views and comments in the PhillyDarts.com
On Point Forum. Until then, Good darts and