An east Antrim-based junior darts club, which was just starting to find its feet as the Covid pandemic struck, is already producing players who are representing Northern Ireland on the global stage.
Carrickfergus Junior Darts Academy (JDA) held its first session in January 2020 after being established at the end of 2019.
The JDA was formed by postman and on-call firefighter, Gregg Fowles, alongside his wife, his sister-in-law and her husband.
Gregg said: “We held our first session in the Carrickfergus Amphitheatre using the squash courts for two hours on a Sunday morning.
“Our club is an accredited and affiliated academy with the JDC – Junior Darts Corporation. We are the first and still the only JDC academy in Northern Ireland. There are academies all over the world and all academies use a centralised scoring system, so kids can see how they are performing each week and compare their scores with kids from across the world, including in England, Germany and New Zealand.
“The JDC scoring system also enables the children to progress with the grading system, like karate or judo – white grade to the highest black grade. We had 10–12 weeks of sessions back in 2020 until Covid hit the world. As a club we were extremely disappointed to shut down as we had only started to find our feet.”
Although the developing Coronavirus pandemic meant that only around 10 sessions could be held in the club’s fledgling first few months, the Junior Darts Corporation provided an outlet for the young people during a turbulent time, facilitating a series of virtual meetings and tournaments.
Gregg added: “We had no idea how things would pan out – we had plans to take the academy to Dublin for our first competition in June 2020, it never got to happen.
“That said, behind the scenes the JDC were working hard to find a way for academies to continue in some way. They succeeded and introduced ‘JDC Virtual’.
“The initial idea was to get the kids to do their weekly JDC scoring routine via video calls. They then decided to make it worth doing daily by having a qualification via this system to the JDC Virtual World Championships. The plan was to hold this in November 2020 in Gibraltar, pushed onto to April 2021 and then to June 2021 – and they managed to make it happen.
“They opened up the qualification period and they enabled adults to take part as well, with a junior competition and an adult one.
“So, back in June academy dad John, academy member Jake and myself travelled to Gibraltar to compete at the inaugural JDC Virtual World Championships, with a few other events thrown in as well. It was an experience of a lifetime for the team and we had the time of our lives.
“During all of this, from starting up, to closing down, we always tried to keep the darts club going when and where we could. Shut down in March 2020, got back to the Amphitheatre for one week in October 2020 and then lockdown two happened. We kept looking for alternative arrangements and came across a free room in West Street in the town centre. So in late 2020 we opened the ‘Darts Room’ and held individual sessions and coaching for our members. We painted and floored the room and it looked great and it was our home for a number of months until we had to give it back as the rental arrangements would kick in and unfortunately we could not sustain our club that way.”
Even though the club faced a number of set backs in its early months, it is now going from strength-to-strength, finding a new permanent venue to stage meets and attracting a growing and eager membership.
Gregg continued: “In early June 2021 the doors of the Amphitheatre reopened for us and we stayed there until the end of July. We always wanted a permanent home for the Carrickfergus Junior Darts Academy and we managed to find one. We are now permanently holding our weekly Sunday morning sessions from 10am until noon in the Greenisland War Memorial Sports Club on the Upper Road in Greenisland.
“At present we have around 15 members, both boys and girls aged from seven to 17. We have members from all over, from Lisburn to Larne and from Carrickfergus to Castlederg. Since August we have been going really well, new members, better facilities, happy kids.
“Going forward we want to grow the club, its membership and get a few more girls to join. We are steadily growing and we are getting our name out there. Darts is pretty niche anyway, but Junior Darts is even more so.
“Our members are really good kids and the fun we have each week is simply fantastic, I love it. It does take up a bit of my time, but it is time well spent and not wasted.
“As I say to everyone, we merely provide the platform and the JDC provides the opportunities, but it is the young people who have to do it themselves.”
The children connected to the club are already progressing in the sport with a number set to represent Northern Ireland in the JDC World Cup later this month.
Gregg concluded: “Since returning from Gibraltar in June, discussion took place regarding the upcoming JDC World Cup of Darts and any possibility of a Northern Ireland team to compete in it. Thankfully, it was fruitful and I was invited to become team manager of the first ever Team Northern Ireland to compete at the JDC World Cup (November 23-November 26).
“I’ll lead a team of four boys to Gibraltar to compete in four days of high level youth darts, four competitions and the last day will be the World Championships.
“The boys had to qualify via the academy scoring system and I will lead – Jake (team captain), Callum, Craig and Ryan (my son)- to Gibraltar and compete with 14 other nations. This is a fantastic achievement by the boys and by the club as we are still very much in our infancy, not yet two years formed and already away to two major events.”
For more information about the club, check out the Carrickfergus Junior Darts Academy Facebook page.
n Sports clubs interested in being featured in this new series can get in touch via email: [email protected]
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.