The line of silver tape on the floor of the Snorty Horse Saloon becomes concealed for a moment by a foot. Players step up to the line 7 feet 9 ¼ inches away from the dartboard with a look of concentrated determination, as they glare past their poised hand, calculating the shot.
With a thrust of the forearm three times, colors fly through the air before the dart tips stick into one of eight boards on the wall. Players leave their set position to record their score on the chalkboard adjacent to the boards from which they will soon retrieve their darts.
The Columbia Dart Association meets Wednesday nights, alternating between the Snorty Horse Saloon, Fraternal Order of Eagles and D & D Pub & Grub during league play. The CDA has seen a decrease in membership since its beginning in the 1970s, with membership dwindling from 200 members to less than 70.
"I'm not really sure (why there has been a decrease)," said Roy Leiby, vice president of the CDA. "I think a lot of the players just got older, and we haven't got any younger players."
As the first round finishes, a woman wearing an Alice Cooper T-shirt and jeans high fives the three other players with whom she was playing. Karen Johnson has been throwing darts for 14 years after being introduced to the game by her husband. Although she plays with the CDA, Johnson and her husband are both members of the Central Missouri Dart Association in Jefferson City.
“I like playing in Columbia because I play with these people in tournaments,” Johnson said. “I’m more at ease, more comfortable.”
Johnson is one of just three women who are playing on this particular evening. Leiby recognizes the low number of women in the sport.
"We probably have around five or six girls that play now," Leiby said. "Back when the league was bigger, there were more girlfriends or wives that played. They must have drifted away from darts.
"Tournaments don’t have a big turn out for women. But this isn’t just a man’s sport. It’s for everybody.”
“I like darts because guys and girls can play,” Johnson said. “Some guys don’t want to play girls, but that’s their loss. Plus, it’s fun beating guys.”
Karen Buchner began playing 24 years ago with the CDA when she tagged along with her brother to learn how to play the game. Despite the continued low numbers of females, Buchner said she has seen growth.
“It’s great playing with guys," she said. “They're like my brothers. There’s been times when I’m the only girl here, but it’s grown.”
For those who do start up with the sport, it is difficult to leave it behind.
“It’s a lifetime sport,” Buchner said. “It’s something you can do that doesn’t take a lot of physical ability. I’m a competitive person, so this is one way I’m still able to compete in something not so physical.”
While the games are competitive, members of the CDA consider it friendly competition. During the summer, the CDA tries to pair up beginners and experienced players in hopes the new player will learn the rules and some skills from the experienced players.
Nicole Marso has been playing since January when she met her boyfriend, Michael, on a blind date and on a blind draw — where matchups are based on a random pairing. At 23, Marso is one of the younger players and enjoys learning from the older players in the laid-back atmosphere.
“At first it was intimidating because I wasn’t as good as everyone else,” Marso said. “They teach the game as we’re playing, and I’m still trying to learn, so that’s nice.
“We’re here to have fun. It’s fun socially. It’s not like other team sports where you have to live up to everyone else.”
“Everybody’s here to help each other,” Leiby said. “Everybody wants our league to grow, whether it’s women, men, husbands or wives. Doesn’t matter.”