Got your team together? The Cornhole Tournament, a Farley Fest 2019 event, is this Friday, August 2. Registration starts at 5:30 p.m. Entry fee is $15 per team. The tournament, which offers 100 percent payback, starts at 6 p.m.
If you’ve been to a backyard barbecue or tailgate party lately, you’ve probably played a game or two of cornhole. It’s even showing up at weddings and festivals. It’s simple, but oh so addictive. But, is it really a sport? And where did it come from?
Turns out, cornhole has interesting roots. One of its predecessors is the British game quoits (pronounced almost like quarts). Quoits was played by tossing a two to three-pound metal ring at a stake, called a hob. The National Quoits Association claims it was one of the sports played at the first Greek Olympics, and the Greeks passed the game on to the Romans, who took the game to Britain. Others say the game originated in Germany, when a fourteenth-century cabinetmaker Matthias Kueperman saw children tossing rocks into a groundhog hole. Legend says he decided to create a safer game. (Legend doesn’t say if it was for the safety of the children or the groundhog.)
There might be no kernal of truth to support any of these hypotheses, but, in England by the fifteenth century, quoits had become a popular pub sport. The game even played a cameo role in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. In the play, the character Doll Tearsheets asks ” Why does the prince love him so?” Falstaff answers,” Because their legs are both of a bigness and he plays at quoits well.”
By the early nineteenth century, Brits who lived in the country had caught the quoits bug, but they often lacked a proper set, and made do with horseshoes. Thus, a quoit was sometimes called a shoe. Because the English countryside was frequently rainy and muddy and heavy iron objects thrown about the manor had a tendency to break expensive vases, Friend W. Smith invented a portable, cushioned game board with rubber quoits to take the game indoors. He dubbed this game parlor quoits.
Across the Pond, Americans had joined the fun and were throwing horseshoes. They had also begun to play bean bags by the early 1860s. Bean bags also enjoy a long and colorful history. According to some historians, bean bags were invented by the Egytians around 2000 BC. The Egyptian bags were round, leather, and probably filled with beans or small stones. Legend also says ancient Chinese tai chi students filled small bags with sand, pebbles, or dried beans. They slung the bags in the air and attempted to keep them aloft by striking them with their body. Native Americans of the US – the Blackhawks of the Midwest in particular – are said to have filled pig bladders with dried beans and tossed them for recreation.
So, in 1883, when an American Heyliger de Windt filed a patent application for Parlor Quoits, he stood on the shoulders of many great traditions. His patent, however, included a slanted board and used a central hole that was square instead of round. It also offered an optional bell.
De Windt, who was the great-great grandson of President John Adams and the great-great nephew of John Quincy Adams, sold the rights to his game design to the first large-scale toy manufacturer in the US. The Massachusetts-based company, Converse, marketed a version of de Windt’s game and changed its name to Faba Baga (Faba is Latin for bean.) to differentiate it from both quoits and bean bags. (A Faba Baga board also had two different-sized holes, worth different point values, and each player received one extra-large bag per round, which scored double points.)
US Patent No. 285,396 – Heyliger Adams de Windt – Game Apparatus for Playing Parlor-Quoits
Drawing Courtesy of John D. Champlin, The Young Folks’ Cyclopaedia of Games and Sports, New York, H. Holt and Company
Over the years, the game underwent several modifications and used several aliases including: Bag Board, Dadhole, Doghouse, Baggo, Corn Toss, Soft Horseshoes, and Indiana Horseshoes. Today it’s known as just bags in the Chicago area. Most people say this is due to the connotation of vulgarity associated with the name cornhole. Perhaps those who have stuck with the corntroversial name, do so as a gentle poke in the eye of the elite.
Call it what you like, but you can’t deny cornhole has hit it big. It is now a professional sport with its own league – the American Cornhole League. Prize money from a contract with ESPN has vaulted winnings over the $1 million mark. It’s popularity keeps growing, too. In 2017, ESPN2 aired the Championship of Bags and over 300,000 people watched. According to Sports Media Watch, “For viewers of ESPN2 between the ages of 18 and 49, the championship garnered more viewers than a major league baseball game and the final stage of the Tour de France.” Corn you believe it?
So, if you have a taste for uncornventional sports and love the sweet taste of victory, don’t miss the cornhole tournament this Friday night at Farley Fest 2019.