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The next big Olympic sport? It could be cornhole

A BABYBEL CHEESEMAKER quickly became known.

A Taco Bell manager has her own trading card.

A chemical engineer became a regular on television.

A former bread truck driver repaired Doug Fluties Batmobile.

And two long-time friends found love.

It’s all about cornhole.

“I definitely fell in love through cornhole, which is kind of stupid,” said Rosie Streker. “But cornhole is such a big part of our life – it really is our life.”

To the Strekers and countless others, Cornhole has become more than just a game. It can turn total strangers into friends. And friends in family.

“We have thousands of friends I know by first name from all over the country from this game alone,” said Rosie’s husband Davis. “A common place for many people with so many different backgrounds, ages and skills who would otherwise never have met. Just this network of friends that has become exponential for so many of us. “

Less than five years ago, cornhole remained a pastime limited to stadium rear doors, backyard barbecues, church feasts, and folk festivals.

But entrepreneur Stacey Moore saw the potential for so much more as she waded through all of the cornhole boards strewn in the parking lots outside of NC State football games.

“Cornhole is very social – anyone who enjoys socializing and meeting new people is easily drawn to it,” said Moore. “But people also wanted to play cornhole more seriously than other tailgating games.

“I was just convinced there was an opportunity for it to become a legitimate business opportunity and sport.”

And so Moore founded the American Cornhole League in 2016, which initially comprised 10,000 registered participants, a few hundred tournaments and total prize money of 50,000 US dollars.

Today the ACL has more than 100,000 registered players, male and female, participating in approximately 25,000 tournaments each season. Total annual payouts have soared to $ 500,000, aided by sponsorship deals with brands like Johnsonville, Bush Beans and most recently DraftKings – which now publishes live gambling lines at cornhole games.

Last summer, ACL tournaments appeared on ESPN for seven consecutive weeks for a total of 28 hours, recording airtime cleared by major sports leagues that suspended their seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, the ACL World Championship in Rock Hill, South Carolina will be broadcast live in prime-time on ESPN2, the highlight of the fifth year ESPN8: The Ocho Day, inspired by the 2004 hit movie “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” (earlier in the day, ESPN2 will host championship competitions in everything from arm wrestling and air guitar to putt-putt and pinball).

But behind its skyrocketing popularity – with those who watch and those who play – Cornhole’s own underdog story may not be complete. Moore believes Cornhole could unlikely land a chance at the pantheon of international sport within a decade: the Olympics.

“That’s a very aggressive target, probably a very small percentage [of succeeding]Moore admits to the timeline before regaining his optimism. “But if you had told me five years ago that we would be where we are today and have grown as we have grown, I would have given that a very small percentage.”


TREY RYDER, THE Voice of Cornhole, adores Kirk Herbstreit. But his broadcast partner Jeff McCarragher refers to Ryder as Cornholes Tony Romo because Ryder can predict exactly where a bag will land and explain why it should end up there. Ryder even uses a telestrator to hammer the point.

“It’s a little weird when you play and you can hear him on the air saying what you’re going to do,” said Ryan Smith, a former James Madison defensive back who is now a top professional at the ACL. “But he’s a guy who loves his job and invests so much time.”

Ryder has played cornhole since high school a decade ago and discovered it with his father Eric at a minor league baseball game in Charlotte.

“Cornhole is a game that is actually pretty easy to get decent at. But it’s very, very difficult to get great at it.”

Trey Ryder, Cornhole TV analyst

“We were taught a lesson very quickly,” said Ryder. “Cornhole is a game that is actually pretty easy to get decent at. But it’s very, very hard to get great. So we kicked our asses.”

The two continued to play together at local tournaments until Ryder went to Clemson to study chemical engineering. By the time Ryder graduated, Moore had started the ACL and Eric turned pro.

“I was kind of a skeptic,” Ryder admitted of the emerging league. “But my father kept telling me that we thought this was going to be special.”

In 2017, ESPN began airing Cornhole, which meant the ACL needed commentators who knew the game. Shy by nature, Ryder had improved his public speaking skills while serving as an assistant teacher in undergraduate physics. At his father’s suggestion, Ryder auditioned and recorded a 3-minute pitch over his phone. A month later he called cornhole tournaments on national television.

“Yeah, I was scared you-know-what-less,” said Ryder, now 26. “But I got started when we got into the tournaments because I was only talking about what I knew.”

Ryder, who had family and friends sign a cornhole board instead of a guest book at his wedding, knows Cornhole. And as players develop new strategies and shots, he constantly updates the sport’s lexicon with phrases like “bully bag” and “v-block”.

But his most iconic call came through Daymon Dennis’ “And-1” – as Ryder called it – which is somewhere in the cornhole community between the Immaculate Reception and Babe Ruth calling his own shot.

Two years ago, Dennis stated on the show that he would knock an opponent’s sack off the back of the board while pushing his own through the hole – a seemingly impossible shot. Then Dennis converted it. And by his late 50s, he finally learned what it means to go viral.

“Thank god they bring it up today,” said Dennis, who has to remind them that he didn’t even win the match. “Pretty much everywhere I play, I hear people say, ‘Throw Daymon Dennis’s shot. … And that thing. “

Dennis worked at the Babybel Kentucky factory for 27 years, eventually rising to the position of head cheesemaker, whose main job was to make the red wax-coated mini wheels that can be found in virtually every grocery store. About halfway through his tenure there, the plant held a cornhole tournament to raise money for a colleague diagnosed with leukemia.

Dennis was instantly hooked. Now he’s the # 1 cornhole player in the world. However, Dennis is quick to point out that he’s not even really the best in Kentucky.

“Matt Guy is the Tiger Woods from Cornhole,” said Dennis. “Reaching pocket by pocket to this guy is just overwhelming. He’s the best cornhole player there is ever going to be.”

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Take a look at this cornhole shot that’s on the money from 126 feet away.

Guy grew up playing horseshoe in bluegrass state and even competed in national tournaments. But while driving a bread cart through Cincinnati two decades ago, he saw a sign for a cornhole tournament. Guy got hooked too – to the point that on family vacation he found tournaments along the route, tournaments in Florida, and tournaments for the return trip.

“I basically made enough money on the trip,” he said, “to pay for the trip.”

All in all, Guy has participated in thousands of tournaments. That year, he teamed up with former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie to win a celebrity match that featured DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones of Alabama, both first-round draft picks in April. Guy even got Fluties’ ailing Batmobile up and running again there.

However, Guy’s preferred partner in doubles remains his son Bret, who, after years of watching him play, finally joined his father at 15.

“We are the only father-son world championship team,” said Bret, who keeps a vehicle exclusively for his cornhole road trips. “It couldn’t be better.”


THE ACL WAS Preparing for a tournament in Cleveland in March 2020 as COVID-19 hit America. Rudy Gobert tested positive before an NBA game and triggered a domino effect of sports cancellations. This also included the ACL.

But also because Cornhole had the advantage of being a naturally socially distant sport, the ACL was able to resume gaming just two months later.

Closures across the country allowed Cornhole to grow in other ways too, and provided a window for new potential players to join the pro ranks.

This included Eian Cripps, who could practice several hours a day while his school in Ruston, Louisiana was closed; At 11 years old, Cripps is the youngest professional in ACL history.

That included Sarah Cassidy.

Cassidy had played cornhole with her friends on Florida’s beaches in high school. When she began to lose hours in her job managing a Taco Bell, she resumed cornhole and quietly entered the 2020 World Cup, which, true to its underdog roots, is an open competition.

“Nobody knew my name, nobody knew who I was,” said Cassidy. “I just showed up.”

Cassidy not only won the women’s singles title, but also won a doubles championship with Cheyenne Renner. From this Cinderella feat, Topps created a Cassidy trading card that is still sold out.

“Our players come from all walks of life – everyone has a unique story,” said Ryder, whose father made his own picture-book comeback after esophageal cancer last year and was back on Ryder’s first show after the pandemic began. “The relationability of the game is what makes it so successful.”

Moore is now trying to export this relationability abroad.

Over the next five years he wants to attract 500,000 new players in 50 countries. He admits the goal is high. On the other hand, Moore also received Cornhole’s first major sponsorship from random messaging companies on LinkedIn. (Only the Johnsonville marketing rep responded; the word “cornhole” piqued his interest.)

“Ultimately, it will be important that enough countries play competitively to have the most compelling international competition in the Olympics,” said Moore. “But I feel like the success we’ve had on TV gives us an edge in how quickly we can do it.”


CORNHOLE CANNOT still have the Olympics.

But it has a love story.

Over a decade ago, Davis Streker had surprised his sister with Jack Johnson concert tickets for her birthday. He just couldn’t break away from this backward game that he had never seen before.

“The concert was on and we stayed out in the parking lot and played cornhole because I loved it,” he said. “I didn’t mean to stop.”

Rosie would have a similar experience on a Miami Dolphins tailgate. And through Cornhole, the two friends gradually grew closer. Initially, it brought boards and bags to student softball games. Eventually it traveled together to cornhole tournaments.

Her friends started calling them a couple as a half-joke, and the two always replied that they were “only cornhole partners”. But soon both realized that they wanted more.

“We suddenly realized this was something special,” said Davis, who finally got moving during a beach sunset. “I thought, what better perfect woman could you ever imagine being with her?”

Their wedding reception appropriately turned into a huge cornhole tournament in the park, with a barbecue, beer kegs, and dozens of people who weren’t invited but wanted to play cornhole too. The wedding koozies contained the appropriate phrase “Not just cornhole partners”.

As the Strekers immediate family expanded – they now have three children – so did their cornhole.

Emory Parker moved nearby after college in Florida State looking for a way to make friends. He thought he was going to join the Strekers’ Cornhole League. Two months later, Davis and Rosie invited Parker to move into an empty room they had while he looked for permanent residence. Her home became that permanent place.

“Two of the best people I’ve met in my life,” said Parker, who tossed Davis’ bags every night. “I’ve never met two people who were as perfect for each other as they were.”

Two years later, Parker moved to the Cayman Islands for professional reasons. But he couldn’t stay. He missed playing cornhole. And he missed his cornhole community even more.

On his return to Florida, Parker won the 2019 World Doubles Championship with Matthew Sorrells, whom he met during his life with the Strekers.

“That’s the great thing about Cornhole,” said Rosie. “It gives people this sense of community. It’s like family. It’s our family.”

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