• 45°

Catawba student is an international cornhole champ

Champ

Davis

Catawba College

SALISBURY — When you meet Catawba College junior Branden Davis of Thomasville, you’d never suspect that he’s a top-ranked player in one of the fastest growing competitive pastimes in the country – cornhole. Yes, cornhole, a game that involves beanbags thrown at a slanted wooden or concrete board with a hole in it.

Cornhole, a popular activity in backyards and at tailgates across the country, has moved past its humble pastime beginnings to become a competitive sport, with a governing and commercial body, the American Cornhole Organization or ACO (established in 2005). In fact, Branden is ranked third in ACO competition in N.C. and tenth in the world. He and his dad, Robbie, also a state and nationally ranked player, are certified officials with the ACO and run regional competition for Chair City Cornhole in the Thomasville area.

This 20-year-old, who was awarded a full tuition scholarship to attend Catawba College based on his high standardized test scores, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in secondary education. He hopes to eventually return to his high school in Thomasville and teach math there. In the meantime, he said cornhole is a stress reliever for him and has helped him come out of his shell.

“In high school, before I started playing cornhole and before I did drama, I didn’t really just get up and talk to people,” he said. I was a nerdy kid. I liked to make good grades. I just kept to myself and my inner circle of friends. But since I’ve started playing cornhole, I’ve really opened up socially. There’s literally 200-300 people I can call friends because of cornhole, and then I’ve met hundreds on top of that whom I still know – going out to meet people, traveling to their hometowns, and them coming to mine – things like that.”

Branden can thank his grandfather for getting him involved in the activity. It was just a scant three and a half years ago when he threw his first bags.

“My granddad got a set of cornhole boards and played all of the time, and then my dad said he’d play with him. Then we all started playing for the fun of it. When we first started, my grandpa was the best because he was retired and he played all of the time,” Branden recalled.

Backyard play soon led to Branden, his dad and his younger brother, Erick, playing at church fundraising tournaments for fun, then on to some blind draws tournaments, then to American Legion play in High Point. Finally, they were good enough to start playing in ACO competition.

“I thought it was really hard because I didn’t even win a game my first two times playing. I got beat in singles, and me and my brother didn’t do so hot in doubles,” he shares.

But practice did move Branden, his brother and father closer to cornhole perfection. His brother is now ranked number one in the world and in the state by ACO, and his dad is ranked 16th in the world and fourth in the state. However, he’s quick to point out, rankings can change with each competition and throughout cornhole playing season which runs September to July.

“Those update monthly,” Branden said. “As soon as I put in the points from my last tournament, that will update and it will change somewhat, probably not drastically, but it will change.”

In addition to helping him become more social, Branden acknowledges that cornhole has also taught him that “I am a lot more competitive than I thought I was. It’s really mental as well as physical. You have to change up your strategy throughout the game. The main strategy is to throw and slide up into the hole, aiming for the top center of the board,” he said.

“You compete in a frame and throw four bags per each person in one frame, and then you change, throwing another frame back to get an inning, which is a down and back,” he said. “You play until someone gets 21 or exceeds 21 and there’s a no bust rule in ACO  — which is if you exceed 21, you go back and regress to 15 points and keep throwing to achieve 21,” he explained.

“The object of the play is to outscore and get to 21 as quickly as you can without giving up points by pushing a competitor’s bag in the hole or by not blocking effectively so they score points off of your misplacement of bags,” he said.

And while cornhole is a beloved activity for the Davis men and other competitive players, it does not fare as well as a spectator sport. Branden says he recently took his girlfriend to a competition in Kenansville, and when it concluded he says she told him, “This is the most boring thing I’ve ever sat and watched.”

But, despite her boredom, the two are still a couple and the Davis men continue to play competitively. Sometimes, but not very often, they are accompanied by Branden’s mother.

Branden notes that people who are involved in the sport of cornhole really enjoy spectating, “especially the matches between two top-notch players.” He added that getting involved is the best way to make watching cornhole interesting, and says one of the goals of ACO is to get the sport up to the spectator level which would allow the ACO with the ability to provide more for the players of the organization.

“I’m proud of my family and what we’ve accomplished this season because we’ve all performed really well,” he said. “It’s very seldom that you can come across another family where all of them are good and all three in my family are ranked in the top 20 players. It shows that all three of us know what we’re doing and are at the same level.”

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