In just under a month, nearly three dozen local players will compete against other youth players from around the Country to crown 2017's Junior National Champions in soft tip darts. These Junior players had a calendar year to meet the minimum league game requirements with their local operator and hone their skills in an attempt to compete and hopefully become recognized as the best in their division. The National Dart Association (NDA) hosts five different events; each of which is broken down into divisions based upon player's skill level.
Among those Juniors competing will be Greater Omaha's own "Wolfpack" Junior National team, a year-round competition team that is made up of Junior players that practice and compete in leagues & tournaments the entire year in preparation for the NDA Junior Nationals. Members of the Wolfpack have won 10 Junior National Championships to date and have the added pressure of not only defending many of those titles, but doing so in their hometown.
An exciting twist being thrown in this year with Omaha hosting the National event is that for the first time, non-Wolfpack local Juniors will also be competing in the events. Will these youth players from Greater Omaha's Junior program defeat a Wolfpack member? Will one of them be the ones walking away with a National Championship, while a Wolfpack member walks away empty handed? These are certainly situations that make this year's event that much more exciting for the local players.
When asked about the competition between youth players, Wolfpack Coach Steve Garrean Jr. said "Honestly we are all excited to host the 2017 Junior Nationals and all of the kids are really supportive of each other." Garrean went on to add "There is certainly a healthy competition between players, but at the end of the day, all of these kids are friends and are genuinely happy seeing each other succeed." It was also mentioned that many of the Junior players have stayed in touch through social media over the last couple National events. "We're not only building the future of the sport, but building lifelong friendships and relationships...it's so much more than just darts for many of these kids." added Assistant Coach Matt Winters.
Greater Omaha Leagues has really supported the Junior movement since Garrean & Winters began the program in 2014 with just 8 youth players. Now, just three years later, the league sanctioned around 60 Junior players with the NDA in 2016. Garrean is hoping that is just the beginning, stating "We really want to continue reaching out to our surrounding communities to help push forward and continue building upon our Junior program. Seeing the growth of the Junior players over the last few years has been nothing short of amazing...and I'm not referring to just their ability on the dartboard. We mentor them in any way we can and build a family bond in hopes of giving each and every one of them a solid support system, because life can get difficult during adolescence and everyone needs an ear to listen, a guiding word or just a shoulder to cry on from time to time." He concluded with giving a shout out to everyone who has helped with building and growing the Junior program, whether they be parents, Assistant Coaches with the Wolfpack (current: Gabe Ahlers, Jeff Martens, Julie Garrean, Jessica Jordan & former: Wes Babcock), sponsors or those within the community who have shown tremendous support for everything the Junior program has done.
The following local players are competing for National Championships in various events:
The National Dart Association & Greater Omaha Leagues encourages parents, aunts & uncles, grandparents, etc. to come out and support their Junior player as they compete for a 2017 Junior National Championship, but please remember that this is a youth event, so refrain from inappropriate language and practice good sportsmanship for all of the Junior competitors. Once again, a huge thank you to everyone who has continued to support the Junior program...we can't wait to see where it goes from here.