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Forest Grove is ground zero for Oregon cornhole

State championships return to city for third year in a row


Sean Flett (left) and Jay Memmott polish up their cornhole skills Friday, June 3, at the Grand Lodge. John and Mike Chase knew they weren’t supposed to be there. But they snuck down to Forest Grove anyway and no one asked where they were from.

No one, that is, until they began to win.

The losers began to talk to each other. Then the referee confronted the Chases and the truth finally came out: The talented father-son team that was winning games and drawing attention at the Oregon State Championships of Cornhole ... was from Washington state.

Scandal!

The Chases were disqualified and sent back to the cornhole wasteland of Washington, which doesn’t hold state championships and doesn’t seem to understand or appreciate the Chases’ favorite sport.

Such was the drama around last year’s Oregon state championships. Indeed, the increasingly popular sport prompts heated debate over national rankings, water-cooler recollections of celebrated upsets and the anticipation of thousand-dollar prizes.

At the center of it all is Forest Grove, where the state championship tournament has been held since it started three years ago — most recently last weekend.

Back then, cornhole wasn’t yet a cult hit and the campaign to bring the championships here was a punchline, largely due to the sport’s awkward name, which manages to sound both corny and nasty.Despite its casual reputation, cornhole is on the rise. It boasts its own governing body, the American Cornhole Organization (ACO) and its tournaments feature cash purses - upwards of $10,000 for the national championship.

“Some people chuckled,” said Carolyn McCormick, president of the Washington County Visitors Association.

But even after the first year, “you could see the increase in people playing,” said McCormick, who worked to bring the championships to Forest Grove. Hillsboro now boasts a vigorous league with 16 teams and two divisions. “Cornhole’s success here shows how something can mushroom,” she said.

This year, to the delight of John and Mark Chase, Oregon officials took the cornhole tournament a step further. At the last minute, they decided to offer a Washington State championship tournament for their neglected fellow cornhole fans to the north. With only a week’s notice before the tourney, around ten Washington players signed up, including the Chases.

It starts in the back yard

Popularly recognized as a tailgating or brewpub game, cornhole plays much like horseshoes or shuffleboard. Players toss beanbags at a slanted board with a hole: one point for a bag on the board, three points for a bag through the hole.

To the casual observer, it seems a calm, even languid sport, with the fluid tosses and muted whack of beanbags. But the competition is vigorous.

Cornhole, explained last year’s singles champion Scott Eberly, often attracts competitive natures, especially former athletes.

“If you can put one bag through the hole, why not all of them?” said Eberly, who played soccer and basketball at Malone University.

Ron Stokes, American Cornhole Organization referee for the championships, likens cornhole to sandlot baseball or pickup basketball. “Everybody starts in the back yard,” said Stokes, “and once you’re the guy to beat in the back yard, you go to find someone better to play.”

Such was the case for Ben Fernandez, last year’s doubles winner. A friend introduced him to cornhole, and Fernandez struggled at first.

“He beat me 20 times in a row,” said Fernandez. “So I decided to get better and beat him. I built my own boards and I practiced — and he hasn’t beaten me since.”

Regardless of the competition, cornhole is almost always friendly, offering plenty of time to talk and joke.

Mike Chase picked up cornhole while passing the time at tailgate parties. He and his son, John, watched videos online. “Soon we were building our own boards,” John said.

This past weekend, Aloha resident Bob Gallop won both the seniors and men’s singles divisions to claim a $250 prize. In doubles, last year’s singles winner Scott Eberly and Sky Rousse took first. All three booked a place in the national championship, held July in Tennessee. Emily Nevins won the women’s division, and Jamie Robb of Washougal won the Washington championship.

‘Do-It-yourself’ sport

According to the ACO, cornhole probably evolved from a 14th-century German game, but its modern iteration emerged from Kentucky around 100 years ago. It has enjoyed strong support in the South and Midwest but has only recently made inroads elsewhere.This years Oregon cornhole championships began Friday, June 3, as seniors and womens divisions competed at McMenamins Grand Lodge. On Saturday, Pacific University hosted the mens singles and doubles competitions, which drew more than 40 competitors.

With six years’ experience, Eberly is one of the veterans. He credits cornhole’s emergent popularity to its accessibility.

“It’s not physically demanding,” he said. “Anyone can play.”

Fernandez noted that cornhole doesn’t demand much of an investment.

“Almost anyone can make this at home,” he said. A piece of wood makes a board, and some extra fabric with beans or corn makes the bags. “There’s a do-it-yourself atmosphere” around cornhole, said Fernandez.

Oregon’s 2016 cornhole championship winners hope to attend the national championships in July — if their work schedules cooperate. Even the best cornhole players still have to rely on day jobs, not endorsement deals.

“I’d like to go,” said Gallop, “but I’m going to be working.” He might talk to his boss about the problem.

Eberly would also like to go again. He’s one of the best players in Oregon and he swept through the state championships last year. But he soon learned he was a big fish in a small pond. At nationals, he found himself ranked the 127th best cornhole player in the country — out of 128. His

first match was against the #2 player in the world and he lost 21-12.

But Eberly is still optimistic about Oregon: “We’re growing here, getting on that level. Cornhole’s only getting bigger.”