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Cecil County Life

Hatchet-throwing in Elkton? You Bet Your Axe!

Jun 06, 2019 08:45AM ● By J. Chambless

The emphasis is on safe fun for all age groups at You Bet Your Axe.

By Drewe Phinny
Staff Writer

At first, alcohol and axe-throwing might sound like a dangerous combination, but according to Nicole (Nikki) Ball and Natalie Hauck, the beverage-sipping is secondary to the main event, which is throwing hatchets at a wooden bullseye. 

Ball and Hauck are co-owners of You Bet Your Axe (YBYA), at the site of a former gym in the Elkton Crossing  Shopping Center.

“The owners are Maryland-certified in alcohol training,” Hauck explained. “And that includes some staff members. Everybody is well-versed. There is always at least one certified person there.”

The husbands of Ball and Hauck are part of the first-responder and law-enforcement communities, which enhances the overall commitment to safety on the premises. And their participation doesn’t stop there. Ball’s husband put in countless hours to help them open within 45 days of signing the lease. Hauck’s husband handles the books.

Besides beer and light wine, non-alcoholic beverages are also options. Because of the Class D license, no beverages of any kind can be brought onto the premises. “We cannot allow any outside drinks.” Ball said. “Not even a water bottle, because then we can’t control it. So we have a wide selection of beer, wine and soft drinks for our customers.”

In addition to co-ownership of YBYA, Ball and Hauck continue to work their other jobs. Ball has held leadership positions in marketing in the corporate world for around 20 years. Hauck, along with a business partner, runs a company that specializes in workplace logistic management.

Ball and Hauck got the idea for You Bet Your Axe when they were visiting a similar venue in South Jersey, where Hauck lives. “So Natalie calls me one day and says, ‘I just booked us a session to go axe-throwing and drinking,’” Ball recalled. “It was phenomenal. I can’t remember as an adult having that much fun. We had a blast. Then we looked at each other and said, ‘We can open one of these. Let’s do it.’ That’s literally what happened. I remember the moment.”

In researching demographics, Ball, who lives in Chesapeake City, found out that axe-throwing chains had decided not to open in Cecil County. “I thought they were crazy for not picking this region,” she said. “This is perfect.” And so far, customers and repeat customers have rewarded that decision with enthusiastic support.

“I couldn’t be happier that we chose this area,” Ball said. “Cecil County has accepted us with open arms. We have met so many amazing people; it’s been a blast.” You Bet Your Axe has been open since December of 2018.

Being good neighbors is part of successful ventures in Cecil County, and Ball and Houck were in on that philosophy from the start. “We want to be part of the community,” Ball said. “So we’re part of the Elkton Alliance. We really embrace partnering with other local businesses so we can help each other, because success breeds success. We only carry Broken Spoke Wine so we can promote them. They’re a local winery in Earleville. We don’t have a keg system, but we’re talking to local breweries and restaurants … Our goal is to be good ambassadors and create relationships.”

Axe-throwing is a fairly simple game that rewards players with points for how close they come to concentric rings with different point values on a wooden board -- sort of like darts. Every session includes a coach who shows you how to throw, as well as reviewing the game rules and keeping score. The coach also helps create the atmosphere and ensures that you and your group have a great experience.

David Van Dyke, head coach at YBYA, was checking out a venue in Philadelphia and it really sparked his interest. “For my thirtieth birthday, I actually built one, and I had my friends over and we played in the back yard,” he said. Then, soon after, YBYA opened, and Van Dyke applied for the job. He’s been working there ever since.

Another coach, Cassandra Stankewitz, has quickly worked her way up to number five on the list of proficient female axe-throwers. “Jan. 5 was my first time throwing. I was in the military and law enforcement, so it was kind of like going to the range,” she said. “My dad and I came in here. I started throwing and I got hooked … I joined the league and then started working here. It’s a lot of fun. I love it.”

 There are seven lanes at the facility, with a total of 14 targets. Each lane can hold up to 12 people. The whole venue can hold more than 100 people, so it’s perfect for parties of all sizes. There is also a private room that can be rented.

Typically, groups play the round-robin game, which has ten rounds. During a two-hour session, people play up to three or four games. Coaches will help you switch up the teams (guys-girls, couples, etc.) Or, you can get creative and go for something like darts -- whoever gets to 75 points first is the winner. As people get used to the game, Ball said, they mix it up a little bit.

Generally, people who come in to check out the place quickly advance from casual play to real competition. Then the next step is to join a league. That would be WATL, the World Axe-Throwing League, as seen on ESPN. That’s where the best of the best face off.

Ball explained how a player at YBYA could actually end up on TV.

“On Thursday nights, our league does brackets until they get to competition,” she said. “Each person will throw four games [40 throws], and those throws get put into the WATL app and our league players can see where they rank compared to each other and the rest of the group around the world. Each league session is eight weeks, and every WATL affiliate starts at the same time. After the eighth week, you find out who your local winner is. He or she is awarded a trophy.”

At that point, WATL will choose the top throwers and they are invited to the world championship, which is televised. “That’s usually in December, so a league member from Elkton could be seen on ESPN,” Ball said. “Some recent rule changes have made things a little more difficult for the really strong competitors. That should be noticeable during spring league play.”

Walk-ins are welcome Wednesday through Saturday during normal business hours, as long as there is a lane open. The facility is very flexible for corporate parties and groups of 20 or more, and will open outside of regular hours to accommodate, if possible. People may bring in their own food, and every lane has a picnic table.

“We have a pizza place next to us,” Ball added. “Also a Chinese place and a Mexican place. We have their menus so you can call them, and most places will actually just walk it right over, so people won’t have to interrupt their game.” YBYA also partners with Crave Eatery, an Elkton food truck service.

Ball and Hauck are proud that they are female co-owners of a thriving business, especially because it’s not exactly your typical start-up. “Especially this type of business -- two chicks that own an axe-throwing business. Kind of stands out,” Ball said.

You Bet Your Axe is in the Elkton Crossing Shopping Center (985 E. Pulaski Highway, Route 40, Elkton. Call 443-593-3075 or visit Hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 4:30 to 11 p.m., and Saturday from 2 to 11 p.m. 

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