- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) - Leonard Demers didn’t have time for hobbies when he farmed near L’Erable. Now, retired at age 90, he spends Saturday mornings tossing oversized darts across the parish hall of St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church.

“They make fun of me because I hit the ceiling all the time,” Demers said. “Sometimes, you can hit. Sometimes, you can’t. It all depends on how it leaves your hand.”

The objective is to hurl 10-inch darts at a board 25 feet away. When they stick, they count as balls, strikes, outs or any of the hits that count in a normal game of baseball. The game is called dartball, an activity which pits men of local churches against each other.

On this particular day, Demers hits a triple. It’s just a practice day, but he talks about the two home runs he hit in the countywide tournament last year. The L’Erable Dartball Team consists of 10 players, most of whom are members of the St. John parish.

“Some of the men take it seriously,” said Don Wauthier, of L’Erable. “If you do, fine. If you don’t, fine.”

They clap when someone scores a good hit. Applause also breaks out when someone hits the ceiling, which is protected by a large, thick piece of Styrofoam mounted there. A handy “grabber” tool helps them recover the wayward darts.

“That’s what makes it fun. It’s always the unexpected,” said Bob LeClair, who’s been with the team since the beginning.

Conversation goes the same way.

At any given time, they talk about running over wild asparagus with a mower, the blueberry peach crisp desert one of the wives made or the fire truck which caught on fire in Pembroke Township earlier this week. Variability is one of the appeals.

Ernie Pitts, who’s earned a reputation playing softball and horseshoes, said there are horseshoe players who can hit ringers 90 percent of the time. It’s not uncommon to find players who dominate the game - something that doesn’t happen in dartball. It’s just too hard to toss the dart that consistently.

“The last place team can always upset the first place team,” Pitts said. “That’s why this game is alive and well. You always get a chance.”

Wauthier isn’t exactly sure when the group started playing, but he knows it was just a few years before the church’s parish hall was built in 1985. Another parish invited them to join the league, and they did.

Dartball is a tradition among churches that started in the 1920s when traveling ministers would bring their boards along with their Bibles on the road. The local league currently consists of seven churches located in Gilman, Ashkum, Crescent City, Clifton and L’Erable. They come from all denominations, which pits Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists against each other.

But in the end, it’s all about camaraderie.

“It’s just to have fun and get together,” Wauthier said. “We get to meet a lot of men from the area we wouldn’t be able to meet otherwise.”

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Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, https://bit.ly/1S09F7y

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Information from: The Daily Journal, https://www.daily-journal.com

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