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Cornhole game catches on

By Noelle Edwards
nedwards@salisburypost.com
If you had closed your eyes and walked into South Rowan High School’s stadium on Saturday morning, aside from falling down the stairs, you might have thought you were in the middle of a basketball or baseball game. Or at least a rousing round of tug-o-war.
You would have been wrong. The stadium actually played host to a cornhole toss Saturday. Cornhole, as in that game they set up in a carnival midway that involves throwing bean bags at a board with a hole in it.
Sixteen teams competed ferociously with one another for the $100 prize.
Competitors cheered on their partners with phrases such as “Keep it up,” “Calm down,” and “We got ’em right where we want ’em.”
They trash talked, making references to people’s mothers.
They strategized and calculated, meticulously kept score and charted it with brackets, refreshed themselves with bottles of water and wiped sweat from their foreheads.
Pretty intense for a lawn game.
The competition was emblematic of a growing cornhole-playing population. A Google search turns up rules, competitions, associations, terminology pages and news.
One Facebook group for cornhole ó there are several ó has more than 104,500 members, and another has nearly 80,000.
Official cornhole rules determine that opposing boards must be 27 feet away from each other. Each bean bag that lands in the hole scores three points. Each one to land on the board scores one point. After a player from each team has tossed four bags, the teams ó made of two players ó count their own points and subtract the higher number from the lower, and that’s the point total of that round, going to the team with the higher points, of course. And it goes on like that until one team scores 21.
Teams play for charity sometimes or just pool their money and award the winner the take.
Saturday’s tournament raised money for the South Rowan Public School Bible Teaching Association ó basically to fund a Bible history elective at South Rowan High School.
Each team paid $20 to compete, plus concessions, of which they were strongly encouraged to partake.
Bennett Hester, chairman of the association’s board, hoped the organization would walk away with a couple thousand dollars from the day.
Pretty good, considering that only a few months prior most of the members of the board had never even heard of cornhole.
The idea for the tournament was pastor and board member Steve Sprinkle’s. People in his church play, and he suggested it as a supplement to the organization’s annual golf tournament, held this year on Oct. 24.
Pete Kluttz from the association made 10 boards, Sprinkle put them together and painted them a solid color, and his wife, Ann Sprinkle, painted logos of sports teams and the Bible Teaching Association. Just the painting took four or five hours per board, Ann Sprinkle said.
Daisy Rodgers, the mother of the group’s treasurer, made the bags for the tournament and extra bags to sell.
Hester said he hopes to see more people come if they hold the event again next year, but for the first year he was happy to have so many serious competitors.
“It just kind of surprised me,” Hester said. “I’ve been around a long time and I never heard of it.”
Tim Pate, who’s been playing about six years, heard of it from his boss, an Ohio native. He said he thinks it’s more of a Midwest game.
“Now the Southerners own it,” said Jeff Royston, Pate’s teammate.
Several competitors at Saturday’s event were veterans of the sport.
Bubba Renken and Mugsy Helms, both of China Grove, came in third place in this year’s state cornhole championship and fourth the year before.
“It’s good competition for 30-year-old men,” Renken said. “It’s something you can do in your backyard and your wife won’t fuss at you.”
Renken and Helms were topped in state championship play by two other men competing on Saturday.
Andy Huffman of China Grove and Richard Yates of Salisbury are the reigning state champions of cornhole, and have been for two years.
Apparently they have a knack because they hadn’t really played much before.
Yates was driving through Raleigh and heard an announcement on the radio about the state championship tournament and thought it would be fun.
And it was. It didn’t hurt that he and Huffman walked away with custom cornhole sets, which sell for $200 or more, after beating 63 teams in 2008 and 95 teams this year.
No cash prize for that contest.
Saturday’s tournament made them each $50 richer though; they won their way through the bracket, beating the final team in a back-to-back matchup, and became that competition’s champion team as well.
Don’t think it was an easy victory, though. A few teams, including the one that came in second place, were made of people from a cornhole troop, of sorts.
The Kannapolis Regulators get together and travel the region ó as close as their own houses and as far as South Carolina ó playing cornhole.
They hold tournaments for restaurants that want to drum up business.
“We play every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, sometimes Wednesday,” said Don Mackling, who bills himself their president.
“We do it for charity. Plus to help us win money,” said Jason Van Buren.
The Kannapolis Regulators had eight people in Saturday’s tournament.
They played Friday night until late and were hoping to finish in China Grove early enough to enter a tournament in Charlotte later on Saturday.
(For the record, the China Grove contest went long into the afternoon, and the Regulators were fairly involved in the competition, not to mention the cheering and trash talking.)
“Where else can you play a sport that you can do it with a beer in your hand?” said Van Buren.
So it’s not the NFL. But between the sweating and the spitting, evaluating which boards to play on and which bags to toss ó all the bags are a pound, but the players preferred larger and looser ones to those stuffed tightly ó and the “ohhhh”-ing and color commentary from spectators, Saturday’s five-hour competition had the tense moments and frequent victories of more traditional sporting games.
“You wouldn’t think there’d be this much drama,” Roxanne Johnson, South Rowan Bible teacher, said.
“It gets worse when it’s not a church function,” Helms said.

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