OCT, 2002

This is the one of several articles I expect to write on the theme of "stories that were not included in To The Point: The Story of Darts in America".

 Pebble Publishing

 

ON POINT
DAN WILLIAM PEEK
OCT, 2002

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, unmanageable.

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 three-figure range.

 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 Philadelphians:

."....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) Championship.
 
"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 November 23rd.

"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 seventies.

"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) - winter, 1977.

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 PhillyDarts.com, 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 person.

"'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 that name.

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 in America.
 


I look forward to seeing your views and comments in the PhillyDarts.com On Point Forum. Until then, Good darts and best wishes.

 


View the winners of the Al Lippman Award given to people in
"Recognition of unselfish dedication to the sport of darts".



                                        

Pictures of Al Lippman courtesy of Cheryl Bowman ( Al's Daughter)


 

Read Dan Peek's other articles

 



I'd like to thank Dan Peek for writing this article for the dart shooters in Philly. If you enjoyed this article, please take the time and post your comments on the ON POINT forum. I created this forum to allow people to post questions and comments about the articles he writes for PhillyDarts. Comment about the book too!! I'm sure he will be thrilled to read comments from the city that hung the first dart board in America!!

- Mike Broderick


PhillyDarts Exclusive

Dan Peek Author of "To The Point: The Story of Darts in America"  was at the Rae Chesney Tournament January 2002. I was able to get a picture of him with Frank Ennis. We talked for a while and I asked him if he would be interested in providing any articles for my website. He mentioned he wrote about 1000 pages for the book, but the book was edited down to 308 pages, therefore he had extra articles about Philadelphia Darts and shooters!

 We worked out a deal and he will be allowing me to publish some of his work here on PhillyDarts. I've created a link so you can check out he book and order it online. Please support him and his efforts to document stories and history of darts. He will amended the book in 2005.


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