Category Archives: ACO in the Media (coverage in news)

13932880_1272844332726933_7608090254337894232_n

Quadruple Amputee Beat the Odds in Cornhole

By | ACO in the Media (coverage in news) | No Comments

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — The best players in the world go head to head in the World Championships for Cornhole in Knoxville. An unlikely contestant from Maryland gave everyone else a run for their money.

button-blog-watch
“I just throw my game, just like anybody else would,” said Dayton Webber, an 18-year-old young man competing in the Cornhole World Championships.

Webber walked through the doors and picked up a bean bag, proving one thing to the world.

“I can do it all,” said Webber.

Just ten months after birth, a rare bacterial disease changed Webber’s world. He had one choice — a traumatic surgery where they had to amputate part of his arms and both legs.

He didn’t let that stop him from growing up like everyone else.

“I write,” said Webber. “My teachers always told me I had the best handwriting in the class. I’m actually really good at writing.”

That also didn’t stop him from playing the sport he loved, cornhole.

“I let my bags do the talking,” said Webber.

button-blog-read

12234872_1094556960555672_6855521080186595973_n

ACO at SkillCon Las Vegas

By | ACO Video, ACO in the Media (coverage in news) | No Comments

SkillCon is a venue where multiple skills and competitive sports converge to run beginner through advanced levels of competitions, performances and exhibitions and also teach beginner level classes. Whether you’re an established organization, someone looking to create a new event or take a preexisting skill in a different direction, SkillCon handles all the venue logistics so you can focus on your event. Join us for our 2016 event at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino this December!

Life’s A Pitch When You’re The World’s Best Cornhole Player

By | ACO News (from the ACO), ACO in the Media (coverage in news) | No Comments

button-blog-readDon’t bother Matt Guy about how he balances family and a grueling work schedule with being a six-time American Cornhole Organization “King of Cornhole.” Guy readily answers questions about pitching preferences, practice methods, and mental preparation — but he has touble explaining just how he gets everything done each week.

“I’m asked that all the time,” he tells Uproxx. “I really don’t know.”

The 44-year-old janitorial supplies salesman is the number one salesperson at his company. Calls, meetings, and site visits keep him on the road for 12 to 15 hours a day. Yet he still squeezes in time on the weekends for major, regional, and local ACO tournaments, as well as private events across the country.

media-uproxx3“I work all week, and when the weekend comes around, I head out of town to play in tournaments. That’s my life, but I have fun doing it,” he says. “I make a little extra money doing it, too.”

Guy’s skills set him above almost all other professional pitchers but, like everyone else in the ACO, he can’t live off of tournament winnings. There simply isn’t enough prize money to go around. Cornhole has expanded since the ACO was founded over a decade ago, but everyone still works a regular job, attends school, or is semi-retired.

For most of the world, it’s still a game you play with your cousins at cookouts.

The fact that they aren’t well-known doesn’t mean that cornhole players aren’t committed. The work days might be long, the commutes longer, and the fan adoration nonexistent, but Guy and other professional ACO players will never stop pitching.

“I’ll keep going until I can’t play no more.”

“Most players are just happy to get the bag on the board.”

media-uproxx2According to Merriam-Webster, “professional” can be used to describe any activity “that requires special education, training, or skill.” Throwing corn-filled bags onto/into angled boards at a football tailgate or on the beach doesn’t seem like such an activity, but ACO founder, president and CEO Frank Geers begs to differ.

“Most [amateur] players are just happy to get the bag on the board,” he tells Uproxx.

Since 2004, the ACO has quickly become the sport’s most popular governing and commercial body. Geers set up shop just outside of Cincinnati in the town of Milford, Ohio. From there, the organization offers “official cornhole rules, sanctioned products, tournament listings, and comprehensive information about cornhole events” to paying members and newcomers alike.

In a 2007 Wall Street Journal article, Geers mentioned his initial dissatisfaction with the American Cornhole Association, which opened its doors two years before the ACO. He didn’t think they were doing enough to promote the sport, though ACA founder Mike Whitton told the paper that he was proud of his organization’s achievements — boasting at the time that nobody else “has the membership we do.”

Eight years later, the situation has certainly changed, though nothing more than a friendly rivalry exists between the two. “I tried reaching out to them to see if they wanted to partner and check out what we were doing,” says Geers. “They thought they knew what they were doing, so they went about their merry way and we went about ours.”

The groups have since kept their distance, though it’s safe to say the ACO owns the sport of cornhole. Their rules are followed, their boards and bags are used, and their tournaments are attended by the greatest number of professional players and greenhorn enthusiasts. Affiliated clubs are strewn throughout the country — from southern California and the Midwest, to the east coast and the American South.

“We’ve got about 25 states in the east coast, South and Midwest,” Geers explains. “Our borders end on the edge of Missouri right now, with a major tournament and a couple of certified officials there and in Illinois, but we’re working our way into Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Idaho. We’ve also got certified officials in California, and from there it all meets in the middle.”

“It was pretty much like second nature.”

Matt Guy has been with the ACO since Geers brought it to life in 2004. Yet his ties to the popular lawn game go back almost 10 years earlier, when his weekends were dedicated to practicing and playing a similar sporting occupation.

“I first played cornhole at a campground back in 1996. That was the first time I’d ever seen the game,” he says. “Of course, I was a horseshoe pitcher back then.”

Turns out Guy wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill passerby who stumbled upon the inaugural ACO world championship, signed up on a whim, and won it. He was then a member of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, and was “ranked sixth in the world” among professional horseshoe players.

“I was one of the top players. I would travel around to horseshoe tournaments just like I do with cornhole tournaments.”

Guy cut his teeth tossing horseshoes with his father, Art Guy, himself a horseshoe pitcher of wide renown. In 2002, the Cincinnati Enquirer interviewed the pair during a game at the OK Horseshoe Club in the city’s Queensgate neighborhood. A then 31-year-old Matt said he enjoyed playing the game on a regular basis with his dad, who said he’d “loved the game all [his] life.”

“My dad starting pitching horseshoes, and we were always pretty tight. So when he joined a league, I went with him,” Matt tells Uproxx. “Then I started getting good at it. So one thing lead to another. We started going to tournaments.”

At 16, Guy was already playing with his father regularly. After high school, he got a job at Butternut Bread, where his father worked, and focused his energies on carving a path for himself. With no wife or kids, this meant he could devote his extra time to practicing horseshoes.

“It kept me out of trouble,” he laughs.

However, by 2008 the “King of Cornhole” had given up horseshoe pitching. The source of his newfound sporting success was taking up all of his free time on the weekends — Guy was already one of the best players in the ACO. This meant that he was always traveling to tournaments and, more often than not, winning them outright.

“I just pretended like I was trying to throw my horseshoe,” he says. “It was pretty much second nature.”

“I still tear up.”

After winning five straight ACO world championships, however, Guy failed to garner a sixth-straight win in 2011. The loss dealt him a devastating blow, tempered by the fact that his own teenaged son, Brett Guy, was rising fast among the ranks of the organization’s top players.

ACO certified official, director, and ardent cornhole promoter Ryan LaBelle of South Carolina has been watching the Guys play together since day one.

“Matt and Brett have been traveling around and playing tournaments together since Brett was 14. They play on the same team because Brett is thatgood,” he tells Uproxx. “That’s got to be a great feeling. To be able to travel around the country with your son, winning tournaments.”

Brett didn’t have any interest in learning the game of horseshoes, but there was something about watching his dad play cornhole that he found fascinating. Now 22 years old and working as the custodian at the Boone County School in Florence, Kentucky, he recalls watching Matt and others play the game and thinking how fun it would be to join in.

“My first ACO tournament was my first tournament ever, and I was 10 or 11. I was knocked out in the first round,” Brett tells Uproxx. “When I started playing competitively, I went to King of Cornhole ’07 and finished fourth. That’s when I thought, ‘I could be really good at this game.’”

Not only was Brett good at cornhole, but he was Matt Guy-good at cornhole. His father was winning world championships left and right, providing his son with the prefect study. When Brett finally decided to pitch his first competitive bags, Matt could immediately see how good his son was going to be.

“Brett naturally picked it up,” his father beams. “When he turned 15, it was time to team up with dad. So we became partners and started playing together. He’s grown up in it and improved over the years.”

Matt’s losing streak continued in 2012 and 2013, but he doesn’t mind the latter so much since that’s the year Brett won his own “King of Cornhole” title.

“I still tear up when I watch the video of him winning,” Matt says. “It still gets me.”

“Winning ACO Worlds VIII was the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” Brett adds. “Especially when I turned around and saw my dad standing there, crying.”

Guy Nation

media-uproxx1

When Brett won the King of Cornhole in 2013, his father wasn’t the only member of the Guy family in attendance. The newly-minted champion’s brother, sister, mother and grandparents were also there, and all of them were wearing custom-made jerseys that read “Guy Nation” on the back.

“My wife came up with it,” Matt explains. “Most of our family was going to be there, so she had them made. It just kind of caught on.”

As Brett rose to prominence Matt found himself stuck in a rut. Time and time again, he would attend the usual regional and major tournaments in his annual attempt to qualify for the world championship tournament, and time and time again he’d come up short. According to him, it was all in his head. The reasons for his sudden inability to retain his top ranking were mostly mental, and he struggled for years after trying to pinpoint what — if anything — he was doing wrong.

“It got to the point where I told Brett to find a new partner because my bad throws and scores were killing him,” Matt says. “He simply wouldn’t let me quit.”

Brett realized his dad was in trouble, of course, but refused to break away from his coach and playing partner. So he kept at his father, using him as a warm-up during his successful run at the championship in 2013 and playing doubles with him throughout the season. He also turned the tables on him, the son coaching his father during the latter’s repeated attempts to regain his former crown. No matter how down and out Matt seemed about the whole thing, Brett would never stop hounding him — all in an attempt to help the former champion break through his mental block.

“I knew he was going to get back in it,” says Brett. “It took him awhile to get back into it, but I think me winning in 2013 helped him. Showed him I could do it, and that I would be there to help him through the tough times.”

As Frank Geers explains it, Matt “struggled for two and a half years” and eventually, if not inevitably, made his comeback. Why? Because “his son won season eight,” which gave him the strength and determination to make “a major rebound” a few seasons later.

In July, Matt attended ACO Worlds X in Knoxville, Tennessee with hundreds of other players. He entered the tournament tied for the top spot in the world rankings — a distinction he’d earned after a hard-fought season of local and regional tournament wins — and came out the other side with his sixth King of Cornhole title.

“That’s the beautiful thing about this game,” says Geers. “Whether you’re eight or 80, anybody has a chance to become good.”

The men of the Guy family are exceptionally good at cornhole. It may not make them rich or famous, but the sport continues to connect them through good times and bad. In a world when balancing work, family, and recreation often feels impossible, the fact that the Guy men have fused all three together seems like a massive accomplishment.

 

Visit Knoxville Brings American Cornhole World Championships Back to Knoxville

By | ACO News (from the ACO), ACO in the Media (coverage in news) | No Comments

Worlds-XI-LogoThe ACO will feature its World Championships of Cornhole XI at the Knoxville Convention Center in Knoxville, TN for the second year in a row on July 26-30, 2016.  Cornhole players of all skill levels will compete for multiple titles on the sport’s biggest stage.

“We are extremely fortunate to have found such a wonderful host city and partner for this event. There aren’t many places in the country that have as much to offer the American Cornhole Organization as the city of Knoxville, TN. We are proud and excited to have them host the ACO World Championships of Cornhole XI in July, 2016,” stated Frank Geers, President of the ACO.


convention-center
“This is going to be the biggest and best ACO Cornhole event ever. The Knoxville Convention Center is situated in the heart of the city and is a perfect venue and with newly added Majors from Lakeland, FL to Pleasanton, CA, and our Membership base growing daily, it promises to be an amazing five days of Cornhole, Tailgating and Pitchin’ FUN!” Frank said.

“Fun is exactly what we want for our visitors. Repeat events like this are wonderful for our destination as a whole, and great for the Knoxville Convention Center as they show themselves as a world class venue,” says Kim Bumpas, President, Visit Knoxville.

“With the growth of cornhole popularity around the world and the success of the World Championships held here in July 2015, Knoxville could not be more ecstatic to host this tournament,” said Steve Winfree with Visit Knoxville.

media-ESPN-worldsX-4“We are proud to host this event for American Cornhole for a second year in a row. We even were fortunate enough to have ESPN in town last year for this event. Maybe, if we are lucky, they may return for a second year as well. Visit Knoxville will be encouraging locals and tourists alike to become sponsors, look to enter or just come out and be spectators.” said Steve.

The ACO World Championships is open to all players who qualify and will feature the most coveted Title in the Sport: the ACO World Singles Title, the crowning of the single best player in the World, if male “King of Cornhole,” or female “Queen of Cornhole”. Other notable Title tournaments held will include the World Doubles Championship, the World Slyder Cup, the World Seniors, World Womens and World Junior titles. There also will be luck of the draw, bring your own partner and the World Slyder Cup tournaments that will be open to players of all skill levels members and non-members alike. These will be taking place throughout the week-long festivities.

ACO officials expect to have 700+ players from 25+ states participating in the 5-day event. For more information and to learn how you can you can participate, visit AmericanCornhole.com

If interested in sponsorship opportunities please e-mail play@americancornhole.com

ESPN’s Photo Article of the World Championships of Cornhole X

By | ACO in the Media (coverage in news) | No Comments

button-blog-readESPN.com Staff

Ron Heibert arrives early to get some practice in before he tosses in the American Cornhole Organization’s World Championships of Cornhole X. To play cornhole, two teams or players face off by tossing four beanbags per round at a board with a six-inch hole. Typically, the first team or player to score 21 points is declared the winner.

ESPN-ACO XBags and bags … and bags.

From all directions and every angle, you can’t avoid the bags at the World Championships. One set of eight World X certified pro bags can run you $75, and must be picked up in Knoxville on Saturday.

The game is mostly played for fun, but at the ACO World Championships, it’s played for pride, passion and ultimately to win one of these sweet trophies

Cornhole Championships Get Spot on ESPN SportsCenter

By | ACO in the Media (coverage in news) | No Comments

media-ESPN-worldsX-1A few minutes before 9 a.m. Saturday, the thuds of bags landing on cornhole boards echoed through the lower-level exhibition hall of the Knoxville Convention Center.

Game time was just a few moments away, as participants little known outside their sport prepared for the final day of the World Championships of Cornhole X.
On the south end of the hall, people with names and faces much more familiar to sports fans around the country prepared for a broadcast of SportsCenter on ESPN2.

media-ESPN-worldsX-4Anchors Matt Barrie and Sara Walsh were doing some last-minute prep work, while college football analyst and former Brigham Young and NFL player Trevor Matich prepared to be on the set. Louisiana Tech women’s basketball coach Tyler Summitt, the son of former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, meanwhile, waited patiently with his father, R.B. Summitt, and a friend to make a guest appearance.Showtime was just a few moments away.

Although tailgating fans at Tennessee football games have been known to play cornhole outside Neyland Stadium while watching ESPN, Saturday marked the first time the two sports have collided.

As part of the network’s “On The Road” series, which included a stop at the Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York last weekend, the station did a three-hour broadcast from the Convention Center.

By all reports, Saturday’s show was a hit.

media-ESPN-worldsX-2b“This is easily the most unique thing I’ve ever been live from,” said EPSN anchor Barrie with a smile after the broadcast was finished at noon. “I was entertained for two straight days.”

ESPN coordinating producer Michael Epstein, who worked with the anchors and the crew on the ESPN bus outside the building, agreed.

“The people have been so great to us, and we just had an absolute blast being here,” he said.
media-ESPN-worldsX-2The cornhole tournament officials, in turn, said they loved having ESPN on hand.

“It’s been absolutely amazing,” said Eric Hinerman, the director of certified officials for the organization overseeing the tournament. “It’s a huge step for us having SportsCenter come.”

Besides reporting on the sports headlines and doing features on the tournament, the ESPN anchors also interviewed various athletes with Tennessee connections, including former Vol and NFL punters Dustin and Britton Colquitt, and former Tennessee and NFL player Jabari Greer.

For Greer, appearing on ESPN is a fun opportunity for any player.

“First, you want to be on SportsCenter for your highlights, and secondly, you want to be on there giving commentary,” he said. “To get this opportunity is awesome.”

He also admitted to being impressed with the skills of the cornhole participants after watching them and doing a few tosses as part of the broadcast.

“I realize I’m not the best athlete in the building,” he said with a laugh.

Among those competing in the tournament, which ended Saturday night with the various world championships, was Shane Harrelson. Although he did not advance out of pool play, he said he loved being there and seeing all the attention the sport received.

media-ESPN-worldsX-3“It’s been an experience,” said the Statesville, N.C., resident, who started playing the fast-growing sport with a friend who had some cornhole boards. “I’m glad to see the coverage of this sport is actually taking off now. There have been a lot of guys who have put a lot of time and effort into getting it where it is now.”

With so many Tennessee-related guests, the talk on the ESPN set was also about Tennessee football. Matich said off the air that through his observance of the job Vols coach Butch Jones is doing and through conversations with his nephew, UT student River Matich, he knows Vol fans are excited about the upcoming season.

“It’s more than excitement,” he joked. “It’s insane.”

 

 

 

 

ESPN’s Kenny Mayne visits the World Championships of Cornhole VII

By | ACO in the Media (coverage in news) | No Comments

button-blog-read button-blog-watch


Thursday, July 31, 2008 -- Bristol, CT -- Kenny Mayne

I’d been to Turfway Park before. It’s pretty much across the street from the Cincinnati airport, which is actually in northern Kentucky. After a Kentucky Derby 12 years ago, I was supposed to drive there from Louisville to catch a 7 a.m. flight to be home for my producer friend Gus Ramsey’s son’s birthday.

Somehow I missed my alarm and awoke in Louisville about the same time I was scheduled to arrive home for the party. As if PJ Ramsey would even remember I had attended. Instead, after missing the event, I wrote him a note that I hope Gus kept for him.

media-ESPN-worldsVIIIt went: “Dear PJ, your Uncle Kenny somehow missed your 2-year-old birthday party, but there’s always that one uncle who teaches his nephews about gambling, and I’m your guy. Sure, I missed your party. I hope the keg of apple juice was chilled and the bouncy house was inflated. But after missing my scheduled flight, I also missed the next five flights. The day after the Derby is a big travel day in Kentucky. Don’t be stupid. No way am I making those flights. It was like John Candy was right there telling me this. So I finally found a flight home at about 9 p.m., which allowed me to spend some quality time across the street at Turfway Park Racecourse. Hollywood Park was running out West, and my trifecta box came home. By not going to your stupid party, I won something like $1,500. That money will be long gone by the time you learn how to read, but I hope by the time you’re around 14 or so you’ll appreciate the fact 2-year-old birthdays are long forgotten, but $1,500 trifecta hits are forever. Let’s go to the track one day. Yours, Uncle Kenny.”

Too bad PJ wasn’t around for this visit to Turfway Park. We hit another trifecta. Not that we didn’t do diligent work. I made that play after competing one night for a couple of hours in the long-toss event at the World Championships of Cornhole. For about three hours, I owned the world record at 77 feet. But there was no way I was walking away with the title. Not with a guy from Cincinnati named Ricky Mayes throwing his arm off. He wouldn’t quit ’til he owned the top mark. And he did: 95 feet.

But it was 27 feet where the tournament field competed for king of cornhole.

You know cornhole. It’s that game with the curious name that people play in parking lots outside football games. Except most of those people don’t play like most of the people we saw at the World Championships of Cornhole. I got smoked in doubles by a 65-year-old grandma. No shame. That old lady made 3s like Larry Bird in an NBA All-Star contest. Just flat drained ’em. These people taught me how you don’t just throw and hope to make the bag fly through the hole. You have to put a little touch on the bag. You slide it up the board, you block your opponent and you call out “air mail” when you feel like naming your shot billiards-style. And you do this with the same consistency that any top player does in his or her sport. They did this, too. They did this when they weren’t complaining to us that it’s high time cornhole got its own TV show. They pointed out how poker, darts, pool and synchronized swimming all have made it inside the TV set, so why not us? The best we could promise them for now is our little Internet show (and its accompanying TV special).

Watch for yourself. Maybe it’s time cornhole went big-time. Cornhole wasn’t even offered at PJ’s birthday party. No regrets — for visiting Turfway that time or this.

Cornhole – The Ravens’ Game Away From the Game

By | ACO in the Media (coverage in news) | No Comments

button-blog-readOWINGS MILLS, Md. — Before the Baltimore Ravens left for New Orleans on Monday, they packed up all of their equipment and gear. With a long week ahead of them before the Super Bowl on Sunday, players and staff went to great lengths to include everything they considered most important, everything vital to their performance.

So it was a given that their four cornhole boards, which occupied a central piece of real estate in the locker room at their training facility this season, were coming with them.

“I think it’s fair to say that it’s been a secret to our success,” said Morgan Cox, the team’s long snapper.media-Ravens

Cornhole, a Midwestern pastime also known in some parts of the country as Bags, is a game of stupefying simplicity. Points are scored by tossing a small bag, typically filled with resin, into a round hole cut into a slanted board.

The Ravens take the game seriously. They played games before practice and after meetings, the soft thud of the cornhole sack providing a sense of stability — and community — in a roller-coaster season. It was a foregone conclusion that the boards would make the trip to Louisiana.

As Ray Rice watched, quarterback Joe Flacco tossed a bag in a recent cornhole game before practice.

In fact, quarterback Joe Flacco and punter Sam Koch are members of the American Cornhole Organization, the sport’s governing body. Frank Geers, the A.C.O.’s president and chief executive, said Koch called him late last week to stock up on additional supplies — and Koch even saved about $10 by using his membership discount.

The Ravens have bonded over cornhole, Koch said. An N.F.L. locker room can be an isolating place, with offensive and defensive players seldom interacting. Why would a starting defensive end strike up a conversation with the third-string quarterback? But inside the Ravens’ locker room, cornhole has been a unifying force — like a Monday night bowling league.

“When you pick up a bag and start playing, you have an instant reason to talk to guys and build relationships,” Koch said.

Based on the Ravens’ cornhole rankings (yes, there is such a thing), Koch is the team’s top player. The only person who consistently challenges Koch is Darren Sanders, the Ravens’ director of security. Offensive lineman Michael Oher used to give Koch problems, but teammates say Oher’s confidence and technique have waned in recent months. It has not gone unnoticed.

“Mike isn’t even in the top five anymore,” Cox said. “He’s really declined.”

The Ravens began to play cornhole in 2010, when defensive end Cory Redding introduced the team to the game’s finer points. (Redding, who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts, is also a member of the A.C.O.) It did not take long for cornhole to catch on. The players found that it was an easy way to unwind after practices and pass the time between meetings.

The Ravens usually organize several tournaments over the course of the season, with singles and doubles brackets. Flacco and Oher’s team is called the Untouchables.

The Ravens even set up a special Twitter account for cornhole-specific updates (@RavensCornhole), though posts this season have been few and far between. The team, by most accounts, has been more concerned with winning games than tabulating rankings.

Justin Tucker, the team’s rookie kicker, said he benefited from some informal cornhole training before he entered the N.F.L. Once he joined the Ravens, he worked hard to refine his self-described “herky-jerky” throwing motion.

Like Oher, Tucker has seen his cornhole aptitude deteriorate during the playoffs. Nailing a winning a 47-yard field goal against the Denver Broncos in the divisional round earlier this month provided some solace, if only temporarily.

“I used to be top five around here,” Tucker said. “But I’ve fallen off. It’s a shame.”

Koch, who grew up in Nebraska and has been with the Ravens since 2006, said he never played cornhole until it made its locker-room debut three years ago. He realizes this might come as a surprise. “Coming from Nebraska, and it being the Cornhusker State, you automatically think cornhole,” he said.

Regardless, Koch said it took him only about four or five weeks to develop a technique that suited him. He now feels most comfortable tossing the bag like a Frisbee, with a slight clockwise rotation. Consistency is what sets him apart. He is the Stan Musial of the cornhole toss, at least in N.F.L. circles.

“Sam took it to another level,” Cox said. “He raised the bar for everybody else.”

Koch would have a tougher time on the professional cornhole circuit, at least according to Geers, who created the A.C.O. with the goal of spreading the game. The country’s best players are capable of earning up to $10,000 a year. The world champion is recognized as the King of Cornhole.

“After the Super Bowl, I’d love to have some of these guys on the front line against our top players in the country,” Geers said. “I bet they’d be floored.”

More People Give This Game a Toss, Corny as It May Be

By | ACO in the Media (coverage in news) | No Comments

button-blog-read

By Any Name, Even Baggo, The Pitch Is the Same; It Goes Better With Beer

By DAVID KESMODEL – Wall Street Journal

CHICAGO — Heidi Hoffmann clutched a red cloth bag of dry corn in her right hand and stared down her target, a 6-inch hole cut in a wooden platform at the other end of a cavernous bar. If she could hurl this bag and one or two more into the hole, she could clinch yet another victory for her team in the ChicagoCornhole league.

media-frankgeersTwo years ago Frank Geers, a 38-year-old veteran of event marketing, founded an alternative group, the American Cornhole Organization, of Milford, Ohio. To finance it, the married father of three cashed out his 401(k) and took out a second mortgage on his house. He’s now borrowing money from friends and family to make ends meet. Mr. Geers says he began ACO partly because he didn’t think the American Cornhole Association was doing enough to promote the game.

The association’s founder, Mike Whitton, says he’s proud of the four-year-old ACA’s achievements. No one else “has the membership we do,” he says.

ACO, whose roughly 500 members pay at least $15 a year, makes its own line of bags and boards and is one of several organizations hosting what they call national or world championships. Its customers include Carnival Cruise Lines. Last year, Matt Guy, of Alexandria, Ky., earned the designation of “King of Cornhole” by winning the ACO Nationals singles title at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. Mr. Guy, a longtime horseshoes tosser, won $500. The 36-year-old will have a shot at winning $5,000 at the next ACO Nationals in January at the Oasis Resort and Casino in Mesquite, Nev.

“It’s a silly-enough looking game that people become intrigued by it,” says Mark Rembert, 22, a native of the Cincinnati area who founded a club at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. “Everyone thinks they should be really good at it, and when they’re not, it becomes addictive.”

By that reasoning, the game is a lot like golf, except it doesn’t require the time, the money and the wardrobe. It seldom takes more than 30 minutes to play three games. The equipment is portable. Sets are often dragged from the trunks of cars before Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts football games. And they can be set up indoors or out. The 16-ounce bags are light enough so anyone can play.

Then there’s the beer. Sports bars, seeing a perfect tie-in, have been big promoters, as have game-equipment vendors eager to standardize a game that until recently was played mostly with homemade gear. Several organizations have introduced leagues and tournaments with cash prizes and trophies.

One evening recently at Joe’s Sports Bar, a 20,000-square-foot warehouse on Chicago’s North Side, Ms. Hoffmann’s team was trying to boost its record to 3-0 in the Chicago league, started three years ago by two Ohioans. At the moment, 36 two-person teams are playing a seven-week season.

Ms. Hoffmann was playing with a substitute partner, but that did little to lift the confidence of Mr. Rotolo and his teammate, Jason Corn. “She kicks my a- most of the time,” said Mr. Rotolo, a 28-year-old retail store manager, while nursing a plastic cup of beer on the edge of the playing court. Five games went on simultaneously beneath two dozen TV screens showing baseball games.

Ms. Hoffmann competed in a sleeveless white undershirt, flip-flops and green Capri pants. A former tennis player for Western Illinois University, she has played cornhole for three years and won several area tournaments. She says her game improved dramatically when she began flipping her wrist so the bag would spin through the air, rather than lofting it flat, as most beginners do. “There’s no comparison,” she says. “I have better aim and accuracy.”

The first team to win two games wins a league match. The right-handed Ms. Hoffmann wound up and fired. Thud! The bag landed just short of the hole, but on the board. Her second shot landed just to the right. Her third slid off the board, and her fourth landed on top of her first two bags. Moments later, her partner, Kevin Huberty, a 26-year-old structural engineer, landed several shots to help the team to a shutout win.

Game two was over almost as quickly. After guiding her team to a 17-1 lead, Ms. Hoffmann eyed the target. She slung the bag just in front of the hole and it skidded in. Mr. Rotolo looked toward heaven. Ms. Hoffman sank a second bag. Mr. Rotolo failed to win any points. The match was over.