Chase for the Cornhole Crown

photograph by Daniel Glass

It’s a sunny Saturday morning in April and I‘ve just arrived at the Pettit National Ice Center in beautiful Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Inside the cold, windowless building are some of the nation’s best Cornholers, and I was about to go in and find out what it took to be a pro. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was quite certain I’d see some morning Woody’s… and a few Slick ones at that. (See sidebar) Armed with a long list of questions and a cameraman in tow, the quest is simple – get answers and get photos. The rest, as they say, is a crapshoot.

I walk in, the piped-in music nearly muted by the rhythmic thud of bag hitting board. The pros, playing in an area separate from the recreational competition. Sporting official shirts with their ranking on the collar, they’re basically saying: This Is the Real Deal.

On the other side of the oval, 80 pre-registered amateurs are waiting, many with beer in hand, for the recreational competition to get underway. So what if it’s 11 am? This is Wisconsin. When in Rome …

After American Cornhole Organization (ACO) founder Frank Geers pairs off the amateurs, he took some time to answer a few questions about the game and the organization. The ACO began in Cincinnati, OH in 2005 and originally functioned as a products company. The goal was to provide bags and boards to Cornhole enthusiasts playing the game at backyard barbeques and tailgating events. Geers quickly recognized that Cornhole was becoming a popular recreational game and saw an opportunity to develop it into an actual sport – with a very suggestive name. I addressed the subject early in our conversation, and Geers didn’t miss a beat defending the name of the game. “The reason the game is called Cornhole is because that’s the origin of the game,” he said, “The bag was filled with corn and the bag of corn was thrown into a hole, hence, Cornhole.”

Fair enough. Mind removed from gutter.

Six years later, the ACO has evolved into the governing body for the sport of Cornhole, organizing recreational and professional tournaments nationwide. Those who are serious about the sport compete in the “Chase for the Crown” with the ultimate goal of becoming the King of Cornhole. The “chase” consists of five Masters Series tournaments, multiple Signature Series and Spotlight Series events held across the country. The 2010 tour began with the Icehole Classic in Cincinnati, February 27-28, and will end with the TurkeyHole in Chicago, November 26-27. The top 40 players from these events, also known as the CornyForty, earn their spot in the King of Cornhole competition being held in Las Vegas, January 2011. The Brew City Bags Bash is a Signature Series event.

photograph by Daniel Glass

The chase is open to any male or female who has paid the $200 entry fee, which includes; an ACO membership, a pro jersey – required attire at all ACO Pro events, and has successfully completed a Skills Challenge with a score of 285 or more. A Skills Challenge (SC) is used to determine skill level and is calculated based on the average score of three Frame Games. A Frame Game is thirteen frames, throwing four bags per frame.

There are currently 73 players competing for a spot in the CornyForty, and only two are women.  I sat down with Dyana Tolliver to find out what it’s like to be a woman in this male-dominated sport. Dyana has traveled from West Virginia to compete in the Brew City Bags Bash with the goal of earning more points for the season. After playing recreationally for years, this is the first year she decided to officially chase the crown. As I ask about life on the pro tour, we’re surrounded by the men she competes against all-year long. The knowledge that her words would be printed in Obscure Sports Magazine for all to read weighing on my mind, I pay close attention to her facial expressions, as she lists the entire positive experiences she’s had. Tolliver’s sincerity is obvious and she jokes with some of her male competitors passing by. She says that in the beginning they often underestimated her, but Tolliver’s current ranking as 26th in the Corny Forty speaks for itself. Dyana Tolliver can certainly hold her own.

When we spoke, Dyana had just finished throwing against Matt Guy, the current King of Cornhole, and laughs, telling me she’s just happy to hold him off. When playing Guy, the goal is simply to play for a while. If she can do that, Tolliver says, the match is a victory.

Matt Guy took first place at the Brew City Bags Bash, and at press time was in second place for this year’s corny crown. He was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy day of winning to tell me about his rise to royalty. Guy has been playing for over seven years and admits to practicing only a couple times a week. But it seems to be working for him. Guy went pro in 2006 and has since held the title of King of Cornhole. In fact, he’s the first three-peat King.  His advice to beer-swilling amateurs, looking to make their way into the pros is simple – “You have to be able to rotate your bag clockwise and keep it as flat as possible, so that when it hits the board it slides straight.”

In addition to winning points, players also compete for cash bonuses. And we’re not talking pocket change either. In 2009, $52,000 in overall prize money was offered on the tour. In 2010 prize money offerings already exceed $250,000. The ACO guarantees a minimum of $25,000.00 in prize money this year to the CornyForty.

For more information about the ACO, visit www.americancornhole.org.
To follow along as the pros chase the crown, check out www.kingofcornhole.com.

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