© Derek Montague
Woody Cooper has an impressive darts record
These days, Woody Cooper is one of the best darts players in central Labrador. He plays in the Northwest River Darts League and at the Goose Bay Legion every week. But back in the late 80s and early 90s, Cooper was one of Alberta's best players.
During his time out West, Cooper played against world-class opponents in major tournaments. In 1990 and 1991 he was even selected to the Alberta provincial team for the National Championships.
Cooper was born and raised in Northwest River, Labrador, and was introduced to darts in 1984, When he was 19 years old. His mother was a very good dart player, and convinced him to give it a try.
"At first, I didn't really like it. My mother talked me into it," says Cooper. "I really didn't have any interest in it."
But eventually, the sport grew on Cooper. He can even remember the moment when his interest in darts began to take form. It happened when he was playing a dart game called X's against Fred Michelin, who was one of the town's best players.
"At the end of the night, it was me and Fred Michelin who were left. And he was the top player at the time," says Cooper. "We were both on our last X, he went up and threw 100 and began picking up the money. And then I went up and threw 100 to match him and he had to put the money down. And it worked out that I won the money. It felt so good to beat a first place player so it got me thinking maybe I could play this game."
Cooper's girlfriend at the time was from Alberta and wanted to move back home. So in 1985, Cooper moved from the town of Northwest River to the city of Calgary, and began working for Pepsi.
He didn't start playing darts in Calgary right away. In fact, it would be two years before he played darts in the city. It was an acquaintance at work that convinced Cooper to start playing again, and try out for his division 4 team in a local dart league.
"The first night I played, I played under someone else's name as a tryout, because they weren't going to put me on their team unless I could throw darts," says Cooper. "But right away they put me on their team."
Cooper spent just one year in division 4. After that he spent his time competing in Calgary's division 1 leagues.
In 1989, aside from his competitive league play, Cooper started playing in big tournaments all across North America. Between 1989-1995, Cooper would travel to places like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, Portland, Saskatoon, and Montana to compete against the world's best.
Cooper's most memorable moment came in a Calgary tournament. He made it to the finals where he would face Tony Holyoake, who played in the same league as Cooper and was one of the top ranked players in the world. In 1992 Holyoake won the Canadian National Championships. Cooper was the underdog for that game, but came out on top.
"I beat him pretty good," says Cooper. " I remember playing very well against him."
With all of his achievements, its clear Cooper could have taken a run at turning pro. But with a family to support, it was a bit too risky of a move to make.
"I had the kids to support, so I had to make a decision," says Cooper. "My decision was to stay working and guarantee I could support my kids rather than taking a chance at darts and hoping I could."
Cooper made an impression with fellow dart players during his time in Calgary. One of his mixed doubles partners, Andrea Sorensen Gilroy, recalls the success she and Cooper had as a team.
"We were known as Bonnie and Clyde because we meant business," says Gilroy. "Very seldom did we lose."
Gilroy believes it was Cooper's relentless determination, combined with his natural talent, which made him such a threat on the dartboard.
"He was competitive and wanted to win," says Gilroy. "He would practice and practice and practice."
Another Calgary dart player, Margaret Heinermann, remembers playing against Cooper many times. She recalls how hard it was trying to beat him.
"He was fantastic...Woody was a great dart player," says Heinerman. "There were a lot of moments when he was hitting 180s and making big finishes."
Heinermann believes Cooper's personality, not just his skill, made him respected by other high-level dart players.
"He's quiet and very nice," says Heinermann. "He never got into arguments, he was a real gentleman."
Both Gilroy and Heinermann believe that Cooper could have turned pro, and probably still could if he wanted to.
"Absolutely he could play professionally," says Gilroy. "He's got all the talent. He's put a lot into it."
"I think if he had the resources, he would have had a good chance," says Heinermann. "In those days, it was harder to get the kind of sponsorships you see now."
In 1995, Cooper ceased playing in the competitive dart leagues in Calgary. Cooper still had the skills to play, but he grew tired of how the leagues operated.
"A lot of it was politics, the way the games went, I just didn't care for it," says Cooper.
In 2004, Cooper moved back to his hometown of Northwest River. It was only a few years ago that he began playing in darts competitively again, when the Northwest River Dart League began. Later on, he started playing in the league at the Legion in Goose Bay. Even though it's not as competitive as his days in Calgary, Cooper still enjoys playing.
"I really like playing no matter what," says Cooper. "I really like the socializing that comes with darts."
Now that Cooper's kids have grown up and he has a bit more freedom, he thinks it's possible that he might try turning pro somewhere in the future.
"I know if I put some time on the board, I can get my game back up," says Cooper. "All I need is the right catalyst to push me there."