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Opinion: Cornhole is a sport

Hollywood, MD - I am just going to say it—cornhole is a real sport. As I sat watching TV the other day, ESPN happened to be playing a championship cornhole game over the air. What many people might describe as just a simple game of tossing bean bags onto a wooden board in the attempt of reaching 21 points the fastest, has evolved far beyond just fun for a family function. In fact, the argument could be made after watching “professionals” play that this is more of a sport than many games we currently classify as sports.

With a little bit of research, anyone can see how far the game has come since its origins. Although difficult to pinpoint whether the game was started by the Blackhawk indian tribe in Illinois, a farmer from Kentucky, or a man in 14th-century Germany, the game has turned into one with strict play regulations. The bag, which should be made of double-seamed 6-by-6 inch fabric and weigh precisely between 15.5 and 16.5 ounces, has developed such a far way from originally being stuffed with corn kernels (hence the name “Cornhole”).

Now the dimensions of the board are equally as important. The American Cornhole League(ACL) sets all of the official rules and regulations for the game now, requiring that all boards be 2-by-4 feet with a six-inch hole centered nine inches away from the board's top edge. Additionally, the bottom edge of the board should be between three to four inches from the ground and the top edge should be exactly 12 inches off the ground, with boards being separated 33 feet apart from their holes or 27 feet from their bottom edges.

However, strict rules and regulations don’t make this game alone into a certifiable sport. It is the competitive nature, necessary skill and precision, and watchable nature of the game that makes it a sport. After watching that game on ESPN and doing more looking into how the game found it’s way onto the big-time television sports stage, I realized that the game is more than just throwing bags in hopes of winning bragging rights from your family.

These athletes have not only the capability of consistently throwing with precision, but they have to use strategy in their execution. I would find it hard to argue that bowling, darts, or curling are more a sport than cornhole. You can watch these people go on stage and drain bag after bag, but to make the math add up to that precise 21 you have to be capable of playing with strategy. The best players can stop other players from draining their shots, or even better forcing others to sink theirs before making it.

Sure, throwing a one-pound bean bag 30 feet isn't too difficult, but hitting the mark that you need to hit every time with someone next to you with that same plan is not easy. I’m not here to argue that it is a difficult sport, in fact it easily could fall into the category of a “lifetime sport,” but the market for the sport clearly helps to define how it meets it’s mark.

Professional players such as Matt Guy and Cody Henderson are making a name for themselves in the game as we speak. The professional division in the ACL dished out over $1 million in prize money just last season. ESPN and ESPN2 had four hours of programming set aside for the National College Cornhole Championship. Someone told me that they had no idea why cornhole was on ESPN last week and I let them know that “it wouldn't be on there if people didn’t like to watch it, especially around here.”

People can watch cornhole for entertainment just as easily as they could watch golf, bowling, or any e-sport for that matter. The idea that something that requires any physical ability in a competition format and that provides entertainment value is just a game and not a sport, is absurd. As a matter of fact a “sport” is defined by that exact definition. I suppose that should make competitive cheerleading a sport as well but that is a whole new debate.

While I can admit that the game could easily be considered just a signature game to Southern Maryland, I am just as certain that there are plenty of other places across the country that hold the sport in similar regards. The game clearly wasn't founded as early as say soccer or baseball or many other professional sports, but perhaps that is why it is just now getting some well deserved recognition as a sport.

As more rural areas appear to be taking the charge in producing talent, we at the southern end of the Maryland peninsula should be trying to gain exposure from the sport on a grand scale, supporting tournament play and aspiring athletes. The market for the sport is growing exponentially and now would be an excellent time to capitalize on it economically. Perhaps there might even be some potential professional recruitment material from our rural area that is SOMD, who knows.

The next time you pick up one of those bags at a barbecue or tailgate and start trash talking your buddies, just know that there probably is some guy playing the same game on ESPN that is better than both of you.

Contact Zach at zach.hill@thebaynet.com .

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