After playing 72 darts games over a draining two days, Matthew Sheppard had the look of someone who had just got a bullseye.
It was little wonder. The 17-year-old had achieved another target in his darts career – senior boys champion in the 2023 Youth Provincial Dart Playdown in Saskatoon.
It was the fourth time that the Maple Creek teenager had competed at provincials. In his last outing he came second.
This time, his experience in big competition, and the countless hours of practice, paid off. Even during COVID-19, Matthew kept refining his skills and technique, using his home darts board.
At the provincials he reeled off a succession of impressive scores as he maintained his concentration.
“I think it went pretty well,” he said. “I feel I played well. I definitely played better on the second day than the first day.”
Did he get any 180s, the highest score possible with three darts?
“No,” he smiled. “But I got close to 180 a lot of times.”
Matthew’s dad, Jamie, coach with the Maple Creek Darts League, was understandably proud.
“It was a big achievement,” he said. “It was a big accomplishment and something Matthew should be proud of for the rest of his life.”
He added: “You get the trophy for a year, and can say you are senior boy champion for a year.”
The provincials took place at the Army Navy & Air Force Veterans venue over the Family Day weekend, February 18-19.
Competitors came from all corners of the province, including Prince Albert, Hudson Bay, Saskatoon, and Maple Creek. Jamie and Matthew went up on Saskatoon on Friday, checking into the Days Inn by Wyndham, a seven-minute drive from the darts venue. Fox Valley’s Oliver Yang, whose step-dad is Mark Precious, was the other local competitor.
Play started at 10am on Saturday, ending at 4pm. On Sunday, it went from 9am to 3pm, culminating in a presentation ceremony overseen by Saskatchewan Darts Association youth directors Mel December and Ryan English.
For Matthew, the challenge was playing the same three competitors over 72 games in the seniors category (16-18).
There is a danger that the repetition can throw a darter off his game. This wasn’t the case with Matthew, however.
“I’ve learned to keep calm and play my own game,” he said. “I’m definitely better than I was last year. Each year I feel I’m getting better and better.
“COVID gave me time to practise and I think success is down to practice. It’s definitely nice to be competing again and playing in big tournaments.”
Close behind Matthew in second place was Jaden English, while earning his spot as team alternate was Dominic Santucci.
Matthew is already looking forward to another major event on his calendar – the 2023 Youth Nationals in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec. He will be the only Maple Creek representative at the May 17-21 National Darts Federation of Canada tournament.
“Maybe the nationals will be my high point,” said Matthew.
Jamie has yet to decide whether he will be making the Quebec trip to see his son.
In Maple Creek, he faces the challenge of rebuilding the darts league after it was hit by COVID-19 and a string of departures as members graduate or find other interests.
“Hopefully we can host provincials here next year,” he said.
He has also spoken to Rob Stewart, Maple Creek Composite School principal, about bringing high school classes to the Legion to discover the joy of darts.