|I don’t know ‘bout ya’ll but when I think of the Ozarks what pops into my noggin is hooters, and I done don’t mean that place with the chicken wings. No siree, Bob. |
What I mean is Hooterville. Don’t nobody know fer shore where that is ‘xactly ‘cept “it’s sumpin’ like 300 miles from Chicago, ‘round ‘bout Crabwell Corners, Stankwell Falls and Bugtussle.” But everybody knows how the town got its name. There’s lots of evidence.
Back in the ‘60s lots of well endowed wimmenfolk lived near these parts. Must be sumpin’ in the squirrel soup. Fer example, Elly May Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies growed up in the holler here. So did Billy Jo, Bobbie Jo and Betty Jo from Petticoat Junction. Even the diamond-clad Lisa from Green Acres settled here fer a spell.
Prob’ly Hooterville is near where I’ve just been, ‘least that would be my guess, judgin’ from the current evidence. That would be Tessa Marshall and Heather Hunt and iffen you don’t get what I’m talkin’ ‘bout you best be a-fixing to get your tail to next year’s Chuck and Sticks’ Chicken COOP Open. It’s a mighty fine shindig.
Founded twenty-five years ago by Chuck Gideon and Joe “Stick” Stacy in a chicken coop in Gideon’s back yard in Pineville, Missour-ah, the COOP is one of the longest running darts tournaments in America. It is also, without a doubt, the BEST tournament I have ever attended. I say this not because of any of the promises made to me by Heather and Tessa. I say this because it is an absolute fact.
I also must be perfectly clear: anything I said, did or thought about doing to either Tessa or Heather is not something I should be held personally responsible for. I say this for two reasons. First, because their significant others, Dave Marshall and Matt Keller, are pretty big dudes and have gun racks on their trucks. Second, I was poisoned.
Only a handful of couples attended the first tournament, which was more of a house party than anything else, but word spread fast. The tournament outgrew Gideon’s yard so everybody flew the original coop and moseyed down the road a piece to Noel. Often called the Christmas City because of its unusual name and heralded as the Canoe Capital of the Ozarks, Noel is a sleepy town (population 1,480) cut into the historic bluffs along the tranquil, meandering waters of the Elk River. This is where the tournament is held today – under a 100’ x 40’ big top tent at a campground called Elk River Floats nestled under the towering trees by the river.
For the past five years the tournament has been organized and run by Mike and Tammy Edwards and Pat and Robin Law, with help from Mike Hensley, Jim Norwood and Matt Keller. For all of them the event is nothing short of a labor of love. This year over 650 darters made the trek to the Noel, almost half again the population of the town itself. On Friday night over 200 darters entered the first blind draw.
So, as I’ve said, the first night I was poisoned...
What you have to understand is that the COOP is not just a darts tournament; it’s a down home doin’ – a campout, barbeque and fish fry, family vacation, golf scramble, canoe trip, fireworks show, charity auction and a whole lot more rolled into one.
Throughout it all, literally non-stop for four days and three nights, is a series of back-to-back-to-back-to-back blind draw darts events. They never stop. Amidst all this activity, particularly at night time, around and about the scores of tents, camper vans and smoldering campfires, it is quite easy to tangle with some poison ivy or something worse.
In my case it was the “something worse” that whacked me on my first night at the COOP. His name was Johnny Noe.
I was under the big top mindin’ my own business, throwin’ some darts and checkin’ out the evidence when Noe wandered up and invited me to take a gander at his truck. At the time there was quite a gully warsher underway and I hesitated to leave the protection of the tent.
But head into the rain I did. Noe and I sloggged through the mud to his truck where we met up with a few more of the good old boys. Matt Keller was there. So was the “other” Keller (not related), Mike. There were some others but their names were lost forever some time in the five hours between my eighth or ninth shot of Rumpelmint and when I almost drove my car into the river.
The only other thing I remember of my introduction to the COOP (besides the reek of the urinals) was the astonished look in the eyes of my first blind draw partner, some feller from Arkansas, when in the middle of our first round match I weaved, slumped and then crashed to the ground attempting to take out a double.
The next day was beautiful. The sun was bright, the river bubbled along. For hours I threw “3 Strikes” with Robert Perkey, James Atkins, Bob Riederer and Jimmy “Scooby” Boone and pretty much lost all my money. I played some cricket with “Mean” Irene Goodwin and faired a bit better, mainly because she somehow lost both of her arms while frog giggin’.
Before the evening draw I stopped by Matt Keller’s campsite for some croppy and ribs. Croppy is some kind of a fish. At least that’s what I was told. It could be possum. But it’s good. Like me, Keller was also in Rumpelmint recovery mode but he wasn’t moving so slow as to not be able to have a good laugh when for some mysterious reason the picnic table flipped and launched of a bowl of potato, perfectly I must say, at the triple twenty on my shirt.
I threw the first draw with Howard Webb against someone named Dickhead and another guy named Eb or Sketch or Red or something. Webb and I lost. We lost to a Dickhead. That’s all I have to say about that.
In between the rest of the draws and until the middle of the morning I did my best to take in the full flavor of the COOP without falling down or taking my car on a float trip. I invested considerable time trying to win a stuffed chicken and other stuff I didn’t want by throwing darts at the charity board. This is something all darters will be familiar with even if you’ve never been to the COOP. The board is set up just like a standard dartboard but it has little gold, silver, red, green and blue stars stuck all over it. They are just like the ones you never got because you screwed up your homework in first grade.
If you hit a star you win a prize. The problem is that due to some sort of mysterious aspect of the space-time continuum the little stars are frickin’ impossible to hit. For example, there was a pretty blue one smack in the middle of the triple twenty that I was just dying to hit. With one handful I actually threw a 180 but managed to miss the damn star. Then some kid, all of ten years of age, stepped to the line, heaved a dart, pierced a star somewhere outside of the double ring at the bottom of the board and walked off with MY stuffed chicken. So, throughout the day and night I handed over dollar bill after dollar bill to the two very delighted teenagers, Bethany Norwood and Olivia Givens, who spent the weekend running the charity board, when they weren’t chasing boys.
I also made frequent trips to Ray Faqua’s food truck and this is something that I highly recommend that you do if you ever make it to the COOP. Faqua’s been setting up his little shop for years and it’s quite an operation. The pulled pork sandwiches are extraordinary and his potato salad is the best I’ve ever tasted and he doesn’t even throw it at you.
Into the wee hours the blind draws continued. In between the calling of names, Mike Edwards, (the official COOP announcer), also called out trivia questions. If you were the first to yell out the correct answer you won a free trip to the charity board to throw three darts and not win a stuffed chicken. The questions were tough too. For example, try this one: Which female movie star has been named the most times to People magazine’s list of 50 most beautiful people? The answer: Julia Roberts. Several darters, most in the condition I was in on the first night, missed this one because they thought the correct answer was Dave Bob Marshall.
My second day at the COOP ended well. Late in the night I even met a woman. Her name was Trixie and she was very attractive – but she was just a head, stuck to a stick. She was being carried past my board by some guy who explained to me that she was “perfect because she’s dead and can’t talk or complain.” My apologies to all y’all wimmenfolk for mentioning this – I only do so, in the interest of journalistic accuracy, because it did in fact happen. Personally, I prefer my women alive and whole, with duct tape over their mouths.
My final day was the best. There was a float trip, which in Missour-ah lingo means hopping in a canoe and sweating your ass off, so I skipped that. There was a golf outing, which is basically the same sweaty thing, just without the boat, so I skipped that too. What I did was throw darts!
I hooked up with a contingent of darters from Shreveport or what’s left of Nawlins and was pleased to learn that sometime soon Laweezeeanna may finally be admitted to the Union. Somewhere out there on the Internet is a group photo of all of us. I’m the one with the teeth.
Also in the photo are Ken and Lennis Hearn, Jim Hatchett, Dave “Rooster” and Leta Brown, Chris and Julie Procell, Tammy Young, Lana Winslow and Greg Rhubal. Hearn is a former American Darts Organization (ADO) top-fifty ranked player and Hatchett is Hearn’s personal scorekeeper, widely unknown as “the best scorekeeper in the world.”
IMPORTANT NOTE: One of the ladies in the Louisiana group was a policewoman (and mais me, but dis gal was purtier den a mudboat in de swamps; I guarantee dat) so I want it to be known – here, now and forever – that the remark above about the teeth was written purely in jest. It is not true. It is a filthy lie. Honest. I wouldn’t want an innocent little joke to come back to haunt me next year. I want to be handcuffed!
A key endeavor at the COOP is to what they call, “get some wood.” While members of the female persuasion can achieve this quite easily without actually throwing a dart, for people like me it’s not so simple. “Wood” in COOP terms is what you get if you and your partner win an event. The winner’s plaques are gorgeous things, large four-color COOP logos framed in antique wood gathered from Noah’s Ark. Today, at least for a while, I had shots at fetchin’ me some wood.
I drew Bobby Childers (whose daughter Ceanna won some wood in one of the youngins’ events) in one of the early draws and we blazed our way through five or six rounds and were feeling confident. But our darts suddenly left us (well mine did) and we were demolished by Chris Madewell and Tony “P” Pendleton who then cruised into the finals.
Sometime after dark, I was paired with a darter named Sanderson for 501. For my life I can’t find the piece of paper where I wrote his first name, so sorry about that. Probably his middle name is Bob though. Everybody’s middle name here seems to be Bob, even the wimmenfolk.
Whatever Sanderson’s first name was, he was a great shot, and so were his kids. Both of his boys, Zach and “something Bob” (yep, lost the other kid’s name too) won wood. So Sanderson and I were on a mission to make it three for the family. We had a plan too and it was simple. For the first few rounds it was my job to score and finish. Sanderson’s job was to get sober.
We were both successful. I even hit a couple of 140s when the when the lights went out. Sanderson stuck to coke and after a half dozen rounds we were in the groove. We could feel the wood! That’s when the fireworks show began – a terrific display sponsored by Murphys of Stillwater and set off by Bob Covey and crew – and the draw was temporarily suspended. Forty-five minutes later we returned to the line and ten minutes after that we were toast. Sanderson and I pledged to each other to come back next year and get the little bastard who fired the bottle rocket into my crotch.
So that how it went on my first visit to Chuck and Stick’s Chicken COOP Open (the 25th anniversary of the tournament) in Noel, Missour-ah. I had a FANTASTIC time, met hundreds of terrific people, and learned some important things.
I learned why a chicken coop has only two doors (because if it had four doors it would have to be called a chicken sedan).
I learned that just because someone is nicknamed Dickhead doesn’t mean he can’t shoot.
I learned that potato salad can fly.
Most important, I learned that Rumpelmint will, well… SCREW YOU UP BAD!
Best of all I was honored to meet the actual real life Chuck Gideon, the guy that started it all and wrote the Bible. The problem is I met him the morning immediately after I was poisoned by Johnny Noe. I remember nothing of our conversation, recalling only that he was wearing a bright orange shirt. Or maybe it was yellow. Or black.
Next year’s Chicken COOP Open is already scheduled. It will run from Thursday, May 31 through Sunday, June 3. Stay up-to-date by regularly checking out their website at http://www.chickencoopopen.com and make your plans early to BE THERE.
There done ain’t nothin’ that’ll keep me away. No siree, Bob.
From the Field,
Chicken Coop Open