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The next great Olympic sport? It could be cornhole

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Clutch cornhole shot called by Mayne (1:27)

Kenny Mayne provides the call on The Ocho for some clutch cornhole action. (1:27)

A BABYBEL CHEESEMAKER went viral.

A Taco Bell manager got her own trading card.

A chemical engineer became a TV regular.

A former bread truck driver fixed Doug Flutie's Batmobile.

And two longtime friends found love.

All because of cornhole.

"I definitely fell in love through cornhole, which is kind of goofy," Rosie Streker said. "But cornhole is such a big part of our life -- it really is our life."

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

"We have thousands of friends I know by first name from all over the country just from this game," said Rosie's husband, Davis. "A common place for a lot of people with so many different backgrounds and ages and skills that would've never met one another otherwise. Just this network of friends that's become exponential for so many of us."

Not five years ago, cornhole remained a bag-tossing pastime, confined to stadium tailgates, backyard cookouts, church festivals and state fairs.

But entrepreneur Stacey Moore saw the potential for so much more while wading through all the cornhole boards scattered throughout the parking lots outside NC State football games.

"Cornhole is very social -- anyone that enjoys being social and meeting new people easily gravitates towards it," Moore said. "But people also wanted to play cornhole more seriously than other tailgating games.

"I just became convinced it had the opportunity to be elevated into a legitimate business opportunity and a legitimate sport."

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

Today, the ACL boasts more than 100,000 registered players, male and female, competing in roughly 25,000 tournaments per season. The total annual payouts have ballooned to $500,000, backed by sponsorship deals with brands such as Johnsonville, Bush Beans and, most recently, DraftKings -- which is now posting live gambling lines on cornhole matches.

Last summer, ACL tournaments appeared on ESPN for seven consecutive weeks totaling 28 hours, soaking up airtime vacated by the major sports leagues that suspended their seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday, the ACL world championship in Rock Hill, South Carolina, will appear live in prime time on ESPN2, the culminating event of the fifth annual ESPN8: The Ocho day, inspired by the 2004 hit film "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" (earlier in the day, ESPN2 will carry championship competitions in everything from arm wrestling and air guitar to Putt-Putt and pinball).

Yet behind its exploding popularity -- among those who watch and those who play -- cornhole's own underdog story could be far from complete. Moore believes that within a decade cornhole could improbably land a shot at the pantheon of international sports: the Olympics.

"That's a very aggressive goal, probably a very low percentage [of succeeding]," Moore admits of the timeline, before regaining optimism. "But if you would've told me five years ago that we'd be where we are today, and grown the way we've grown, I would've given that a very low percentage, too."


TREY RYDER, THE voice of cornhole, idolizes Kirk Herbstreit. But his broadcasting partner, Jeff McCarragher, refers to Ryder as cornhole's Tony Romo because Ryder can accurately predict where a bag is going to land and explain why it should land there. Ryder even uses a telestrator to hammer home the point.

"It is a bit strange when you're playing and you can hear him on the broadcast saying what you're about to do," said Ryan Smith, a former defensive back at James Madison who is now among the ACL's top pros. "But that's a guy who loves his job who puts so much time into it."

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

"Cornhole is a game that's actually pretty easy to become decent at. But it's very, very difficult to become great at." Trey Ryder, cornhole TV analyst

"We got taught a lesson real quick," Ryder said. "Cornhole is a game that's actually pretty easy to become decent at. But it's very, very difficult to become great at. So we got our butts kicked."

The two continued playing in local tournaments together, until Ryder went off to Clemson to study chemical engineering. By the time Ryder graduated, Moore had founded the ACL and Eric had become a pro.

"I was kind of a doubter," Ryder admitted of the budding league. "But my dad kept telling me, we think this is going to be something special."

In 2017, ESPN began airing cornhole, meaning the ACL was in need of commentators who knew the game. Inherently shy, Ryder had improved his public speaking from being a teacher's assistant in an undergraduate physics class. With prodding from his dad, Ryder auditioned, taping a 3-minute pitch over his phone. A month later, he was calling cornhole tournaments on national television.

"Yeah, I was scared you-know-what-less," said Ryder, now 26. "But I got rolling once we got into the tournaments because I was just talking about what I knew."

Ryder, who had family and friends sign a cornhole board instead of a guestbook at his wedding, knows cornhole. And as players develop new strategies and shots, he constantly is updating the sport's lexicon on the fly, with phrases like "bully bag" and "V-block."

But his most iconic call came via Daymon Dennis' "And-1" -- as Ryder dubbed it -- which, in the cornhole community, falls somewhere between the Immaculate Reception and Babe Ruth calling his own shot.

Two years ago, Dennis declared on the broadcast that he was going to bump an opposing bag off the back of the board while sliding his own through the hole -- a seemingly impossible shot. Then Dennis converted it. And in his late 50s, he finally learned what it meant to go viral.

"Good grief, they still bring it up today," said Dennis, who has to remind people that he didn't even win the match. "Just about wherever I play, I overhear people say, 'Throw that Daymon Dennis shot. ... And-1 that thing."

For 27 years, Dennis worked at the Babybel factory in Kentucky, eventually rising to head cheesemaker, whose primary task was concocting the mini wheels enclosed in red wax that can be found in virtually any grocery store. Roughly halfway through his tenure there, the plant held a cornhole tournament to raise money for a co-worker diagnosed with leukemia.

Dennis immediately became hooked. Now, he's the No. 1-ranked cornhole player in the world. Dennis, however, is quick to point out he's not even really the best in Kentucky.

"Matt Guy is the Tiger Woods of cornhole," Dennis said. "Trying to match that dude bag for bag is just about overwhelming. He's the best cornhole player there will ever be."

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This guy sinks a cornhole shot from how long?

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

Guy grew up playing horseshoes in the Bluegrass State, even competed in national tournaments. But driving a bread truck around Cincinnati two decades ago, he saw a sign for a cornhole tournament. Guy too would become hooked -- to the point that on family vacations, he would find tournaments to play in along the route, tournaments in Florida and tournaments for the drive back.

"I was basically winning enough money on the trip," he said, "to pay for the trip."

All told, Guy has played in thousands of tournaments. This year, he teamed up with former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie to win a celebrity match that included Alabama's DeVonta Smith and Mac Jones, both first-round draft picks in April. While there, Guy even got Flutie's ailing Batmobile up and running again.

Guy's go-to doubles partner, however, remains his son, Bret, who, after years of watching him play, finally joined his dad's side at 15.

"We're the only father-son world championship team," said Bret, who keeps a vehicle solely for their cornhole road trips. "Doesn't get any better than that."


THE ACL WAS setting up for a tournament in Cleveland in March 2020 when COVID-19 took hold in America. Rudy Gobert tested positive before an NBA game, setting off a domino effect of sports cancellations. That included the ACL.

However, in part because cornhole had the advantage of being a naturally socially distanced sport, the ACL was able to resume play just two months later.

Shutdowns across the country allowed cornhole to grow in other ways, too, providing a window for new prospective players to join the pro circuit.

That included Eian Cripps, who was able to practice for several hours daily while his school in Ruston, Louisiana, was closed; at 11 years old, Cripps is the youngest pro in ACL history.

It also included Sarah Cassidy.

Cassidy had played cornhole on Florida's beaches with her friends in high school. When she started losing hours at her job managing a Taco Bell, she picked up cornhole again and quietly entered the 2020 world championship, which, true to its underdog roots, is an open competition.

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

Cassidy not only captured the women's singles title but also won a doubles championship with Cheyenne Renner. Off that Cinderella feat, Topps created a Cassidy trading card, which remains sold out.

"Our players come from all walks of life -- everybody has a unique story," said Ryder, whose father made his own storybook comeback last year after esophageal cancer, returning to play on Ryder's first broadcast after the start of the pandemic. "The relatability of the game is what makes it so successful."

Moore is now attempting to export that relatability abroad.

Over the next five years, he's aiming to add 500,000 new players in 50 countries. He admits that goal is lofty. Then again, Moore also landed cornhole's first major sponsorship by randomly messaging companies over LinkedIn. (Only the Johnsonville marketing rep responded; the word "cornhole" had piqued his interest.)

"Ultimately, it's going to come down to getting enough countries playing competitively to get an extremely compelling international competition at the Olympics," Moore said. "But I feel like that the success we've had on television gives us an advantage of how rapidly we can do it."


CORNHOLE MIGHT NOT have the Olympics just yet.

But it does have 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 pull himself away from this tailgating game he'd never seen before.

"The concert was going on, and we stayed out in the parking lot playing cornhole because I loved it," he said. "I didn't want to stop."

Rosie would have a similar experience at a Miami Dolphins tailgate. And through cornhole, the two friends gradually grew closer. Initially, it was bringing boards and bags after coed softball games. Eventually, it was traveling to cornhole tournaments together.

Their friends began calling them a couple as a half-joke, and the two would always answer that they were "just cornhole partners." But before long, both realized they wanted more.

"We just all of a sudden kind of realized this was something special," said Davis, who finally made a move during one beach sunset. "I was like, what better perfect woman could you ever imagine being with?"

Their wedding reception fittingly turned into a giant cornhole tournament in the park, with barbecue, kegs of beer and dozens of people who weren't invited but wanted to play cornhole, too. The wedding koozies included the apt phrase, "Not just cornhole partners."

As the Strekers' immediate family expanded -- they now have three kids -- so did their cornhole one.

Emory Parker moved nearby after finishing college at Florida State and was looking for a way to make friends. He figured he'd join the Strekers' cornhole league. Two months later, Davis and Rosie had invited Parker to move into a vacant room they had as he searched for a permanent spot to live. Their house turned into that permanent place.

"Two of the best people I've met in my life," said Parker, who would throw bags with Davis nightly. "Never met two people as perfect for one another as them, either."

Two years later, Parker moved out to the Cayman Islands due to work. But he couldn't stay. He missed playing cornhole. And he missed his cornhole community even more.

After moving back to Florida, Parker would go on to capture the 2019 world doubles championship alongside Matthew Sorrells, whom he had met while living with the Strekers.

"That's the awesome part of cornhole," Rosie said. "It gives people that sense of community. It's like a family. It's our family."