The first Dartball board was introduced by a wooden ladder company, Apex Manufacturing Company of Norristown, PA in 1923. Charles High most likely made the first board for the company. The game travelled quickly around the country, especially the midwest, with Dartball leagues established as as early as 1928. On March 31, 1941 Life magazine ran a story on Dartball citing Philadelphia, Kansas City and Milwaukee as strongholds of the sport. The Widdy Company, which was founded in 1908 to sharpen razor blades, got into the dart business in the 1920's.
The first state Dartball Tournament was held in Wisconsin in 1939, probably in the Milwaukee area. Very little info is available from the early years of the state tournaments. Before the state committee was formed, when it came to the game of Dartball, there were numerous variations of the rules, regulations, and board layout existing throughout the state of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin State Dartball Committee was formed in 1951 through the Wisconsin Recreation Association. The original purpose of the committee was to develop and mandate a standard set of Dartball rules for play throughout the state. The first Chairman of the committee was Harold “Zip” Morgan, with assistant Ernie Dorow Sr. Representatives from various areas of the state were added to the committee, including Henry S. Noe, Alfred Gross, Edward Mertens, Joe Hutsteiner, and William Krause. The group worked to develop the first Wisconsin Official Dartball Rule Book, and the first edition was published in 1952. Updates to the rule book were made over the years, as several editions were published, under the guidance and funding of the Wisconsin Recreation Association.
The annual Dartball state tournament continued every year, rotating between the cities of West Allis, Waukesha, and Kenosha. In 1954, a new location was added when Sheboygan hosted the state tournament. In 1963 the tournament truly became a state wide event, when Eau Claire was the host city. This was bolstered by a powerhouse team from that area, McFadden Trucking. They were always a top team at the state tournament during that time, and won seven titles in fifteen years, from 1966 to 1980. In 1970 new committee members were added, including Jerry Mathwig of West Allis and Sam Holmes of Ripon. Sam owned Holmes Manufacturing, a company that made and sold dart boards. In 1973, Sam ran the state tournament in the city of Ripon, which was added as a regular location for the state tournament. In the later 1970’s many of the original committee members began to retire, and on August 23, 1978 Ernest Dorow Sr. retired from the West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation Department, and eight days later Douglas S. Johnson took over. On July 1, 1979 Mr. Johnson was elected as the chairman of the State Dartball Committee. New members added to the committee included: Mark Klobukowski of the W.A.-W.M. Rec Department, Wade Kleinhaus from Sheboygan Falls, Ron Balsiger from Germantown, Jerry Schulz from Neosho, and Harry Roecker from Kewaskum.
In 1981, a women’s division was added to the annual tournament, as it continued to increase in popularity. Harry Roecker ran the tournament for the first time in Kewaskum in 1983. That year also saw the rise of a new powerhouse team, Cruz Trucking of Racine. They won the tournament four times in five years, from 1983 through 1987. Bob Leskovar was a top Milwaukee area shooter on that team, and he joined the state committee in 1988, helping run the tournament in 1989 in West Allis.
The 7th edition of the official rule book was published in 1984, and in 1986 the state committee decided to split the annual state tournament field, so a class “B” division was formed. Promoting Dartball more vigorously became the top priority of the state committee. The 8th edition of the rule book was published in 1990, although no new rules or rule changes were included. The location of the tournament continued to rotate between cities. Stan Chichanofsky joined the committee, and brought the state tournament to his home city of Racine for the first time in 1992. Erv Fiedler and Bud Bolling also joined the committee in the 90’s.
The early 90’s saw several teams rise to dominance. Competing in class A, Sauve’s Auto Service from Two Rivers won seven titles in eleven years, including the first team to win four consecutive titles. They battled Milwaukee area powerhouse Hickory Inn, which probably stopped Sauve’s from winning 7 straight titles. Hickory won 5 titles in 14 years, from 1997 through 2009. Sauve’s members Al Komoroski and Mike Goetsch joined the committee, and along with Jerry Gospodarek brought the tournament to Manitowoc for the first time in 1999. That same year, Scott Peterson and Kevin Kohlbeck of Green Bay, and Dale Lenius of Watertown joined the committee, with hopes of bringing the tournament to their cities.
On October 2, 2000 Doug Johnson stepped down from the state committee, and Harry Roecker was the new President. This was also the first time the group left the guidance of the Wisconsin Recreation Association, when a debt to the West Allis –West Milwaukee Rec center was paid off and the group became self-funding.
Watertown became a first time host in 2001, and Brian Shimanek joined the committee that year. He helped with Green Bay becoming a first time host for the tournament in 2003. The Green Bay state tournament drew 75 teams that year, 16-A, 48-B and 11 womens teams.
In 2002, the committee recognized the ever-growing popularity of 4-player tournaments, and sponsored the first ever state 4-man tournament. It quickly became the benchmark for top players to compete in a 4-player tournament format.
The new century also saw several new members join, with Todd Halverson joining in 2003 and Kevin Kiesow in 2005. Kevin brought the 9-player state tournament to his hometown of Oshkosh for the first time in 2006. Also in 2006 the committee published the 9th edition of the official rule book. This was an updated version, and for the first time ever included a color picture of the state-approved Wisconsin dartboard along with dimensions for everything on the board.
In 2007, the committee took a huge step toward promoting Dartball, when they started the official website of the state committee. The first site was built and maintained by Scott Peterson for the first 5 years. This helped to publish Dartball tournament information and results, which could easily be seen by all players. This resulted in even more growth and popularity of the state tournament. Prior to the website, Dartball information was gathered and passed along by letter and later emails. The best at this was Jim Hinckle of Milwaukee, who unofficially provided the “Dartball News” newsletter and e-mails. For 50 years, many players learned all Dartball info through the Dartball News.
Led by Harry Roecker’s efforts, the committee went in a new direction in 2009, when they ran the tournament as a group, and held it at the Ho-Chunk Casino Convention Hall near Wisconsin Dells. This marked the first time teams had hotel accommodations at the same location of the tournament. This proved very popular with teams, as a record 85 teams participated in the tournament. With the record number of teams, came bigger brackets and a more drawn out event, so in 2010, the committee added a “C” division. This allowed more teams than ever to compete for trophies, and helped ease scheduling problems.
In 2010, the committee finally acted on Jim Hinckle’s requests to start a Dartball Hall of Fame. On April 10, 2010 the state committee formally introduced the very first class of the Wisconsin Dartball Hall of Fame. Eighteen Dartball players from around the state were inducted during a ceremony held at noon during the 71st annual state Dartball tournament. The website gives the committee a place to permanently honor these and future Hall of Fame Dartball players.
At the state meeting held November 6, 2010 officers were officially elected to the state committee. Harry Roecker was elected president, Bob Leskovar vice president, Scott Peterson state secretary, and Kevin Kohlbeck state treasurer. The committee also voted in 16 new members to the Dartball Hall of Fame.
In 2012, the state 9 player tournament finally returned to Eau Claire for the first time in 27 years, and drew 87 teams. This brought new committee members Travis Logslett (2013) and Stacy Franzwa (2014) to the committee. Moving the tournament around to different areas of the state helped draw new teams to the tournament, and in 2013 Oshkosh drew 104 teams, a record attendance at that time. As the Hickory Inn run was coming to an end, there were several top teams consistently competing for the class A title. Yahr Oil of Boltonville was a consistently strong team, winning titles in 1988, 2008 and 2019. Gerhards of Eau Claire was another top team, making it to the state championship 5 consecutive years, winning it in 2011 and 2015. Pete & Sons of Green Bay, won their first title in 2012, then again in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2018, behind one of the top triple shooters of all time, Brian Shimanek.
In 2015, Chad Kuhfuss took over operation of the Wisconsin Dartball website, and in 2017 was voted onto the state committee. Chad had been working toward developing an app to do game scoring on an electronic tablet. In 2018, leagues started using the app for game scoring, which then downloads the league stats and standings to the Wisconsin Dartball website. The hope is that all leagues will sign up on the leagues page, and also use a tablet for scoring, thus creating a Dartball average database.
In 2016 Jim Ehnert joined the state committee, and helped the state 4 player tournament expand to 48 teams by adding a C division. 2016 was also the first time the 9 player tournament was held at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee, and drew another record, 126 teams. The event continued to grow, as Green Bay (2017) and Oshkosh (2019) drew 132 teams.