The rise of cornhole: no pain, just grain

Cornhole offers good time for participants of all ages


You can find Keilan Wilbanks playing cornhole three or four nights a week — he practices almost daily.

“It’s a social thing. You can do it outside or inside,” he said. “It’s kind of like a park game, and it’s fun to do.”

Wilbanks, of Denver, is among the devotees to cornhole, a simple game that essentially requires the player to throw a corn-filled bag into a hole in a platform. The game’s popularity is growing in Colorado, and you can find people tossing bags at many sports bars, restaurants and backyards throughout the Denver metro area.

“I do believe cornhole has increased in popularity,” said Denver resident Stan Mika, who plays and designs custom cornhole boards. “It’s because anyone can play no matter their age, their gender or their physical condition. It’s an easy way to be outside socializing with friends and family.”

And some players, he added, say they get better after a beer or two.

“The American Cornhole Championships were recently broadcast on ESPN, which speaks to its rising popularity,” Mika said. “Kind of reminds me of the attention the U.S. curling team got after the Olympics. Cornhole is just accessible. After buying boards and bags, no extra investment is required.”

A game for everyone

Cornhole is a simple game that has been played in some manner for centuries.

Two players (or four for doubles) take turns throwing bags filled with dried corn at a raised inclined platform with a hole at the far end. The boxes are set 27 feet apart for tournaments and usually 24 feet apart from the front of the box to box for more casual games.

A bag that goes into the hole scores three points and one on the board is worth one point. Matches are broken down into innings or frames with each player throwing four bags. Any bag that touches the ground during the throw does not count.

Cancellation scoring is used and the first team or player to 21 with a difference of two points is the winner. Any of a team’s or individual’s bags knocked into the hole by the opposition counts.

Many contestants are adept at throwing the bags of corn while holding refreshments in their other hand. Great athletic skills are not needed to play the game. Young, old, male and female can participate in cornhole, a social game that allows for interaction between competitors.

Play Mile High organizes cornhole leagues and tournaments in bars and parks around the Denver area. A Colorado state tournament is set for Oct.27 at Softball Country at 2101 W. 64th Avenue in southwestern Adams County. Plus, there are numerous national tournaments for singles and doubles participants each year, with increasing tourney prize money ranging from $36,000 to $68,000.

The game, also known by such names as tailgate toss, bean bag toss, baggo, corn toss and bags game, is easy to play in the backyard or in parking lots and tailgate gatherings to keep people entertained before barbecues or games.

Cornhole has also started to make inroads as a charity event. Several fundraising tournaments have been held this summer.

Ford Church, executive director of the Cottonwood Institute, said a few years ago the educational nonprofit organization decided to raise money with a cornhole tournament instead of another golf tournament.

This year, The Throwdown: A Charity Cornhole Tournment was scheduled for Aug. 5 at Union Station in downtown Denver, with 32 two-person teams scheduled to play in challenge and competitive divisions.

Origins debated

Mika, who started his own business that he calls The Colorado Cornhole Guy,  didn’t speculate on the origin of the game, which has been and will continue to be debated.

Many argue that ancient civilizations invented cornhole by tossing rocks at holes in the ground. Others claim Native Americans — citing the Blackhawk tribe in Illinois — filled pigs’ bladders with dried beans and tossed them competitively.

Germans maintain they started cornhole with burlap bags filled with a pound of corn, but when the price of corn swelled, the game lost popularity. German immigrants began playing in Cincinnati during the 1800s where corn was abundant and available. Then there was Kentucky farmer Jedidiah McGillicuddy, who apparently devised the game to play on the farm with friends and family.

Still, the game probably hasn’t changed much in one aspect because, no matter if it is a game that involves family, friends, a league or a tournament, it is natural for players to become competitive.

“It gets competitive,” said Alicia Shoulder of Lone Tree. “It takes a little bit of practice. It’s not like super easy. When you first start you are really not that good, but you get there. It is just fun to play.”

As simple as the game might seem, it can get difficult at times for elite players, who need to determine the correct footwork and bag release and use speed shots, spin shots or stop shots. Players can grip the bag on the side and give it back spin, or hold it flat so the bag lands like a pancake.

“Every approved bag has a slick side and sticky side,” explained Wilbanks.  “If you are going first, you want to block so you use the sticky side with a higher trajectory and land it right in front of the hole so it sticks there. If you go second, you can go with a slider, a little lower trajectory and harder push to push the bag in — or you have the dunker which goes over the top and straight in the hole.

“It is more like a chess game. You have to figure out what your opponent wants to do first. If they are sliding people you want to block them. If they are dunkers, you had better get your bags in position to get them all in.”


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