An Evening with John Lowe

MMDL Champion Challengers - Player Profiles
Tom Sawyer
2011 Champion - 501
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Sean Moran
2010 Champion - Cricket
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Tina Proctor
2011 Champion - 501
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Holly Frary
2010 Champion - Cricket
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Tom Sawyer -- Cool, Calm And Up There With The Best Of Them


By Mark Stokes

Some twenty years ago Tom Sawyer was asked by some high school friends if he would like to try his hand at playing darts. Tom stepped out of the shadows and up to the oche, and in the process found that hidden talent in life which most of us yearn for but never discover.

Two decades on this Peabody (Massachusetts) native has so much to thank his school pals for. He's at the top of his game, designing his own arrows, traveling to exotic destinations and rubbing shoulders with some of the best players on the planet.

Tom is the pride and joy of Boston's North Shore -- his Suicide 9 team, which operates out of The Barn in Amesbury, benefiting from the 42 year-old's undoubted talent.

Sawyer has the best of both worlds as far as sponsorship goes. He's gone overseas to England for the tools of his trade -- a very slim, but also quite profound custom design tungsten, made by Target and weighing in at a whopping 25.5 grams.

These arrows also boast a unique and quite sensible flight placement -- plugging one-piece and practically into the shaft rather than via the conventional quadrant application. Why aren't all darts made this way?

Dartworld of Lynn (Massachusetts) has also thrown its finances behind the American Darts Organization's third-ranked player, while Tom can also boast a following on yet another continent -- Japan's Cosmo Fit Flight are proud to have him on board.

His career highlights are surely the envy of his contemporaries?

"In the last couple of years I've qualified for the World Masters (two years in a row) and just recently I qualified for this year's Americas Cup."

Tom also remembers the hush of the crowd in Las Vegas when he stepped up to the oche, three darts shy of a perfect game in Cricket. He missed perfection, and the $10,000 that went with it, by one dart.


Tom Sawyer and his signature Target Darts

The penny dropped for Sawyer in 2002 when he began traveling outside the area to play in tournaments. It was at that point he realized he may just have a future in the sport.

Unassuming and proud of his achievements in the game, Tom exudes contentment as he speaks about his time away from the oche, which is spent fishing, carving wood and caring for his parents. By day he works in the shipping department of a Boston area chemical company, yet one senses that Sawyer could one day soon wave goodbye to his day job and take up the game professionally.

"Tom has been at the top of his form all year," says ADO number one Larry Butler.

"He's given me some of the toughest matches I've had all year. He's moved into the number three position in the ADO, I believe. He's had a brilliant year."

Steve Panuncialman, who hosts a Chicago-based darts radio show, weighs in on Tom:

"At every big tournament, Tom's the one guy you heard about this year. Throwing big shot after big shot, and not just winning, but dominating. No one goes undefeated on the circuit of course, but especially this year Tom has set the standard for what it will take to win.

"But what I like most about Tom is that he's such a great guy to talk with about the game. He doesn't 'big-time' people - he's accessible and attentive, the way an ambassador of the game should be. No drama, no excuses - win or lose, Tom's there with his friendly, low-key demeanor, and a smile. Tom's a great example of what an American dart professional can be, and I for one am proud to call him a colleague."

But there are challenges to maintaining one's status among America's top darts players, are there not?

"Physically it's a little tough," says Sawyer.

"People don't understand how much wear and tear goes through your body standing for fifteen to seventeen hours a day at a tournament. Mentally that's probably the toughest part. To get yourself prepared mentally there's a lot of stuff that goes on that people don't see at a tournament."

In a sport where most players wear their nicknames on their sleeves, Tom is proud to say that he's just Tom Sawyer - nothing more, nothing less. This simplistic formula also stretches to his home life -- Tom has taken a unique, and perhaps crazy some would say, approach to the game. His home is devoid of a dartboard!

"It's the way it's been for the past sixteen years," he says with the confidence of one who knows something the rest of us do not.

Tom's fondest Minute Man Darts League memory came four seasons ago:

"It was winning my first state championship with the team that I have now. Because it was with quite a few players that I have been playing with for a long time, and some of them had never won a state championship in the Minute Man League," says Suicide 9's killer.

To those interested in taking up the sport Tom, who doubles as an ADO regional director, recommends a lot of practice "because there's a lot of muscle memory involved."

He's also been down another road which has its pitfalls.

"Try to avoid the excessive drinking that tends to be involved with this sport and the tournaments. People think it makes them better but it really doesn't. I'm a proven fact of that because I've played it both ways."

And what does it mean to Tom Sawyer to be playing in the John Lowe event next month?

"It's interesting. It should be fun. I remember doing the same type of thing years ago when I first started. Against Eric Bristow and Keith Deller. I was one of only two guys out of fifty that beat either one of them. I have played John Lowe at the Witch City event years ago so I'd like to get the chance to do it again and see what happens."


Tina Proctor -- Darts In The Genes


By Mark Stokes

Spending time with the kids for most parents conjures up images of homework at the kitchen table, hot chocolate and bedtime stories. But it's slightly different in the Proctor-Figueroa household where mother of six, Tina, puts her youngsters through their paces in front of a dartboard before tucking them in for the night.

In this ultra modern era of smart phones and GPS, it's a rare family indeed which can devote such time to a communal event or indeed trace its lineage in the sport back a couple of generations. But Tina Proctor is indebted to her family for instilling a passion for darts in her and her siblings. Grandmother and grandfather, mother and father and brothers and sisters all cut their teeth at the oche, and if the truth is known the original Proctors, who settled in New England in 1635, may have also been quite proficient with the steel tips.

A native of the Leominster-Fitchburg area, Tina first showed an interest in the game at the age of eight. If someone told her that some thirty years later she would be making a weekly trek from her Orange (Massachusetts) home, to Worcester, to meet up with mad dogs at a pub called Madigans, she might have been forgiven for thinking it was an old wives' tale.

Known to her Mad Dog team mates as 'Lucky Darts' this full time mom, swears by her gilded-ridge McCoy's. The 1.5 inch hyper-pointed arrows are as heavy as they come, at 26 grams, and have taken her from success to success.

The Minute Man Dart League's top ranked women's 501 player is also ranked in the top dozen by the American Darts Organization. As a twenty-one year old Tina knew she had something of a talent for darts.

"I always knew I could play. Everyone was telling me I was really good," she says.

"I loved playing and it was fun for me. It was also something I wanted to pursue."

But the queen of the Mad Dogs experienced a life changing event which helped kick her game up a notch.


Tina Proctor - ecstatic for the challenge

"I never really had the kick in the butt to do it (pursue a career in darts), but when my brother passed away on Christmas Day 2009 that was the kick in the butt I needed. He lived his life to the fullest and I decided that life is too short not to do what you want to do. I'm doing pretty good at darts now."

She is indeed. Tina's just won the ADO Regionals and is off to Vegas for the third year in a row.

Tina also won the women's pro singles at the Seacoast tournament in 2010.

Does she have time in her busy schedule for hobbies?

"My kids and, (strangely enough) darts."

The key element of being a top player, for Tina, is mental focus.

"It's total mental focus I play with my children. I have six kids, I can play with them running underneath me. It's the ability to block everything else out and concentrate."

Two years ago the Marlborough Eagles asked Tina to come on board. The team was playing at Super A level in the Minute Man Dart League and made the playoffs. It remains her fondest MMDL memory to date. It was also about this time that the small town girl realized she had what it takes to make a name in the sport.

These days the family tradition is in good hands with all six Proctor-Figueroa kids already showing signs of promise with the darts.

What advice does Tina have for aspiring young players?

"Practice. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of focus."

She might also have added the word 'dedication' to the list of qualities needed to succeed, for few players in the present day can claim to clock up as many miles as Tina and her fiancee, Michael Fici.

"Let's see it's a little over two hours twice a week just driving and then depending upon how the match goes - some nights it's been 1:00 am (when getting home). And then there's a third night, Mondays in Lowell," says Michael.

Trips to Worcester and Lowell (Massachusetts) are necessary however.

"She wants to play the best so we go to where the best are," says her husband to be, who met Tina while playing darts.

"It means everything for her to be playing in the John Lowe event. It is definitely the highlight of her career so far."

Tina recalls her meeting with John Part and Trish Wright as a highlight moment, and although she'll do herself and her family proud on the night, one senses that the pride of Orange has stars in her eyes when mentioning the big John Lowe event on December 16.

"I'm ecstatic to be playing in it. I'm amazed by it. I can't wait. I've never played in anything like this before."


Sean Moran - Testament To A Darts Minute Man


By Mark Stokes

Sean Moran is testament to a lot of things -- to a New England darts culture which is deserving of recognition by a much wider audience, to the vast numbers of players who operate locally and to the standard of competition in the Minute Man Dart League, which is world's largest.

Indeed Sean is known as "The Testament" and just in case his eye-catching blue shirt and array of lavish tattoos didn't give it away, Moran's 22.5 gram tungstens bear the nickname he picked up after being crowned 2011 MMDL Singles Cricket Championship.

This likeable Hanson (Massachusetts) native is among the elite players in the United States. The wry smile from wife, Laurie, during a recent interview, greets Sean's tales of travel across the country to play the top venues on the circuit. With success comes sacrifice however, and not only is the 41 year-old Town of Marshfield employee away from home for extended periods, but he also commits himself to "staying focused, eating right and two to three hours practice every day."


Sean and his wife Laurie

Moran took up the sport relatively late in life -- 19 years old -- and recalls the days when he played on his father's teams. Father, Frank, and younger brother, Scott, who was a darts youth champion in his time, were the major influences in his career. Sean also recalls fondly the input to his game that Johnny K, Larry Butler and The King (an accolade shared by both Dave Kelly and Jim Spinoza) have had.

Tom Curtin, Bob Sinnieve, Alan 'Warrior' Little and a certain Mr Dennis Priestly have also brought their influence to bear on Sean during his time in the game.

Sean was bitten by the bug as a teenager and his love affair with darts continued unabated. And it is fair to say that some two decades later he appears headed for the upper echelons of the sport. Spend just half an hour in his presence and one gets the feeling that they are in the company of greatness. Moran possesses the desire, temperament and dedication to go all the way to the top.

He's ranked 27th by the American Darts Organization, but it's a placing which doesn't tell the whole tale. Sean has defeated third-ranked Tom Sawyer in his time while he's also walked away with hands raised against long time US number one, Gary Mawson, perennial top ranked Ray Carver and current ADO kingpin, Larry Butler.

But it was only in the last couple of years that the game began to pay dividends for Sean. He's top dog with his MMDL Round Of 9 team, which plays out of the Asia Palace in Weymouth, and because of his new found status Sean has picked up a catalog of sponsors.

Darts makers Winmau are on board with the 2011 champion, as is L Style, TUV, Prime Athletics and Dutchman Darts.

"It is with great pride that I've signed with such prestigious companies as L Style and Winmau. I would like to thank Mr Tsuyoshi Yamasaki of California and Mr Jinta Swizera of Japan for this great opportunity with L Style. Also I would like to thank Mr Ian Flack of Winmau in England for his confidence in me and for producing such great darts products."

When he is not at the oche, this LPN and father of three enjoys hockey, camping and his kids. Kyle, Jenna and Rylee (both girls are avid shooters) are his pride and joy and the big Irishman is ensuring that the Moran name stays active in the sport. Frank passed on his talents to son Sean, and now young Kyle is showing promise -- he recently lifted the champion's trophy at the Stanford Tournament and followed that up in November 2011 by being crowned Seacoast Open Youth champion.

Asked what advice he has for blossoming young players, Sean says: "Never quit. Set small goals and never be afraid to accept criticism."

Sean has many fond memories of the past two decades in the game. Meeting Scottish icon Jocky Wilson was one, as was the night "or two" he and his wife shared with the Michael Jordan of darts -- Eric Bristow. There was also the evening at Matt's Villa in Holbrook, in 1995, when he played a certain Phil Taylor (before he was 'The Power').

But Sean's successes in the sport have a special place in his heart. The 2011 Cricket Singles title tops the lot. He's won numerous state titles "but winning the Cricket Singles and following up with the runners up spot in the Minuteman 501, was something I'm very proud of," says the Hanson man.

Larry Butler, the only American to win the World Matchplay Tournament (Blackpool, England, 1994) sees Sean as a very good prospect in the game.

"I've know Sean since he was a kid. I knew him and his brother, Scott, from my time playing in Boston. Indeed Boston and the MinuteMan Dart League have been very good to me. But I'll always remember Sean coming into the locker room to meet me when I won the World Matchplay in Blackpool in 1994. Sean is a very good prospect and a great representative for L Style," says the ADO number one.

Like most darts fans Sean recalls the halcyon days of the sport when he witnessed John Lowe sink a nine-dart-finish in Britain's 'Unipart' Championship. On December 16 next, Sean will get the chance to pit his wits against the legend that is Lowe, at a packed IBEW Hall in Dorchester.

What does it mean for Sean Moran to take the stage at the John Lowe event next month?

"It's a complete honor and privilege to be playing against the three-time world champion. I've grown up watching him on TV and I've spent time in his company along with Cliff Lazarenko. To be sharing the same oche with him next month will be amazing."


Holly Frary -- Former Prodigy Is Married To The Sport


By Mark Stokes

Once described by a Minute Man Dart League official as the best female player he had ever seen, Holly Frary owes much of her success to a well spent youth in the game.

The benefits of having an older boyfriend who could vouch for her in an over twenty-one establishment, or two, translated into hours of practice in front of a dartboard. Hard work at any pursuit usually yields the desired results, but Holly recalls that it wasn't exactly by choice she became involved in darts.

"I hated it. I used to get so mad," she says as she remembers the humiliation of being the sparring partner for her ace shooter boyfriend.
The boyfriend took his talents to the local team "and he used to practice on me and of course I'd lose every game."

"So I thought, maybe if I beat him he'll leave me alone," recalls Holly 'Pop'. "I got better and better and I finally beat him. So instead of leaving me alone he put me on his team."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sporting a set of antiquated 21-gram 'Atlanta' tungstens, which were passed down from former husband, Ray Carver, Holly went on to achieve number one status on the female money list and number two position in the rankings.

This former teenage prodigy, who these days plays for the Atomic Penguins out of the Franco American Club in Beverley (Massachusetts), and without a sponsor, remembers being noticed as a twenty-one year old:

"Some gentleman from the Minute Man Darts League saw me and he said I was the best female player he had ever seen. I think it was at the Witch City Open. I won $25 in that tournament and I thought that was the best thing that ever happened."

Since then her game has gone from strength to strength. Like her fellow Minute Man champions, involved in the John Lowe Event in Boston on December 16, Holly can claim to have touched the summit in her chosen sport.

"Two things I always wanted to do in darts were making the World Masters team and the World Cup team. I went to the World Cup in 2003 in France, and I went to the Masters in England in 2002."

Are there hidden talents of Holly's which we might not know about?

"I have nothing to hide...unfortunately. What you see is what you get."


Holly Frary has lived what many players dream about

Yet the psychological side of the game has always intrigued the former women's number two, who raises a very legitimate question about the battle of the sexes in the sport.

"Mentally I can't seem to figure out the dynamics between women and men. Why men seem to be better at this game than women? You know no matter how long women have played, which is longer than most men - at least the women that I know - they're still unable to beat them (the men) on a consistent basis."

A native of Nashua, New Hampshire, Holly draws support from a loving family of mother, sister and step-father. She's resides in Salem, Massachusetts and also called Canada home for a while "when I was married to John Part."

It was shortly after the turn of the millennium that Holly realized she had what it takes to make a living from the game.

"It was definitely when I was with John (Part). I believe I was ranked number two in the country when I met John. So I think he had dollar signs in his eyes when he met me too - you know a good mixed doubles team," says the former Canadian Open Ladies Doubles champion.

The past year has been a tragic one for Holly. Her husband Dave Frary, who was revered in the MMDL fraternity, passed following a long illness. Because of the time she took away from work and the game, Holly has neither a MMDL nor American Darts Organization ranking.

While others will remember this tournament or that, Holly's fondest memory of the playing in the MMDL was the time that she met her deceased husband.

"Don't give up. Just keep trying. You can't expect to be good right away," is the advice Holly gives to youngsters who are starting out in the sport of darts. And she took her own advice at a recent exhibition in Florida.

"I've gone through times when I've had hitches. I had to go through an exhibition in Florida for Budweiser and I had the worst hitch I ever had, and I was miserable. I just had to work through it."

Holly also confesses that at such times -- she can remember two in particular -- she's just wanted to throw her darts in the trash. But she didn't and the Minute Man League is all the better for it.

There is no one in the game that Holly hasn't met:

"I know John and Karen (Lowe) very well. I know Phil (Taylor) and Eric (Bristow). I know them all. They used to come over here quite a bit when they were younger."

And what about the big event with John Lowe in December?

"I actually didn't even know I was playing until about a month ago. I am honored. There's other women in the league who are playing better than me right now. But I stepped up and won the cricket tournament when it mattered. I'm looking forward to it."