Cornhole is a National Craze – These Local Fans Know Why

The finals of cornhole tournament at this past weekend’s Delaware Taco Festival at Frawley Stadium came down to John Kitchin (left) and Kevin Wittmeyer (white sunglasses) and their partners across the way.

It doesn’t have fantasy leagues yet, and so far, analytics haven’t taken over the game. It doesn’t show up on the big board in Las Vegas, either. But cornhole has made it to ESPN, and that’s not bad for a game that basically got started in somebody’s backyard.

In case you don’t know what the game of cornhole is – it pretty much consists of a long board with a hole in it, and small bean bags that competitors try to toss through the hole.

Pros and amateurs got into the cornhole action at the Delaware Taco Festival. Rich Simpler (of Delaware Cornhole) and Greg Mathena (First State Cornhole, wearing a black t-shirt) competed in the finals.

So, it’s a lot like shuffleboard, only different. It’s a game that takes great skill and lots of practice, but athletic ability really isn’t necessary – nobody times you in the 40-yard dash or measures your vertical leap before you get to play. And, of course, nobody has to worry about steroid testing or going through a concussion protocol.

“It’s a very easy game to play,” said Brian Wyre of Townsend, a local cornhole czar. “You can hold a beer and throw a bag and still be competitive.”

The most important thing to the people who play cornhole is that’s it’s fun and anybody can play it, as long as they’re willing to practice it. And so many people like it that there’s actually a professional league for it – the American Cornhole League.

Brian Wyre (left) and James Jones founded Delaware Cornhole. They run regional tournaments for the American Cornhole League, which airs tournaments on ESPN.

Wyre is involved in cornhole on the local and national levels through the company he co-founded, Delaware Cornhole. Locally, he and co-owners James Jones, Andrew Leahan and Mike Napier helped start recreation leagues in Newport, Middletown-Odessa and Smyrna. His most recent event, the Cornhole Tournament at the Delaware Taco Festival on Saturday, was won by Greg Mathena and Kevin Wittmeyer, who run First State Cornhole.

Nationally, various states have their own official cornhole organizations and there’s even an American Cornhole Association, which runs a website “for everyone in the cornhole community.” Wyre’s group started regional and national tournaments and even worked out a deal to have the big events televised on ESPN.

According to its website, the American Cornhole League has 20,000 competitors and the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Cody Henderson of Jackson, Ohio, made about $25,000 in cornhole events this past year, mainly because of ESPN’s involvement.

“They paid out $250,000 in prizes this year at all of their tournaments,” Wyre said. “So, this is for the guys who don’t mind traveling to win.”

The origins of the game are murky, according to delawarecornhole.com. It appears to have been created in the 1880s and corn was initially used in the bag, hence the game’s name, but nobody really knows who invented it and it doesn’t really matter. Until recently, it was generally regarded as a game that you played in your backyard or at a picnic or at the beach – a less-dangerous version of lawn darts.

The rules are simple, which is probably a good thing since some competitors are apparently drinking beer when they play. The two boards are set 27 feet apart (why 27 feet? Why not?) and each player gets to toss four bean bags. You get one point if your bag stays on the board and three points if it goes through so the hole, so even the scoring is simple.

Delaware Taco Festival Cornhole champions Greg Mathena (left) and Kevin Wittmeyer of First State Cornhole.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of strategy involved, both offensively and defensively. And there is a skill involved with successful cornholing – Wyre said the secret is to throw the beanbag like a frizbee so that it spins, rather than just lob it up there.

“It’s a fun time,” Wyre said. “You can be extremely good and you can be extremely bad and you’re still going to have the same amount of fun. That’s the name of the game for us – making sure people have a good time. And there are still cash payouts for the guys who want to take it a little more seriously.

“It’s just an all-around good time.”


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About the Contributor

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.