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ACO in the Media (coverage in news)

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

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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

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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

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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.

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