Sports

Cornhole or bags? Either way, this game remains popular in Iowa

Michael Weaver plays cornhole with Kyle Holub during the Big Grove Brewery's one-year anniversary celebration in Solon o
Michael Weaver plays cornhole with Kyle Holub during the Big Grove Brewery’s one-year anniversary celebration in Solon on Sunday, August 31, 2014. (The Gazette)

You might think a game called cornhole would get its name from Iowa.

But you’d be wrong. Most Midwesterners, in fact, call the popular long-tossing game “bags.”

The game as we know it today derives from Heyliger de Windt’s 1883 patent that essentially swapped out the current round hole in the board with a square one. The goal was to create a game similar to horseshoes that could be played indoors.

The game became increasingly popular in the Chicago area in the late 1970s and spread throughout Ohio to Cincinnati in the 1980s before sprawling south into Kentucky and southern Indiana.

The American Cornhole Association is the “original and official governing body of cornhole,” according to its website. The American Cornhole League, founded in 2015, also wants to promote and develop the game as a sport, “on every level,” including the creation of apps to manage leagues, tournaments and player development, according to founder Stacey Moore.

There also is the American Cornhole Organization, founded in 2005 by Frank Geers, that notes it is the “governing body for cornhole, runs and promotes professional and recreational cornhole tournaments and leagues through its nationwide network of ACO certified officials. The ACO has formalized official cornhole rules ... established a system for cornhole players handicap and established the ACO World Rankings for the sport of cornhole.”

Equipment

Bags are 6 inches by 6 inches and weigh between 15 and 16 ounces.

The ACA requires platforms to be 24 inches wide and 48 inches long with a 6-inch diameter hole that is placed 9 inches from the top of the slanted board. Some modern cornhole boards are 36 inches long and the 6-inch hole is 8 inches from the top of the board.

During gameplay, the players alternate throwing four bags each. The boards are placed about 30 feet apart for adults, 10 feet for kids.

How to play

Singles, doubles or a crew (four members) can make up a bags team.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The most common gameplay is doubles with four players split between two teams. Teammates take turns “pitching” the four bags from one board to the other. The first side throws their four bags in alternating rotation with the other two team members following suit to complete a frame or inning.

Bags must land and remain on the board or go through the open hole to score. A bag through the hole is worth three points, a bag remaining on the board at the end of a player’s turn is worth one point. Scoring is done by cancellation, meaning if Team A scores six points and Team B scores two points, Team A is awarded four points.

Teams are racing to 21 points with the ability to exceed the total without penalty. Because only one team can score points each frame, ties are impossible.

Where to play

With COVID-19 restrictions in place for many bars and recreational spots, bags have exploded in popularity thanks to it being a sport that “all ages and abilities can play,” said Cedar Rapids Sports and Social Club founder/owner Brian Irlmeier.

“It’s a sport that you can play anywhere, including your backyard,” Irlmeier said. “That’s why it has grown even more this summer.”

With some restrictions lifted, groups like the CR Sports and Social Club have leagues that are able to socially distance based on the metrics of the sport itself.

“Most people are just playing it for fun,” Irlmeier said. “If you want to play competitively, there are divisions and tournaments for that, it can be both.”

It’s healthy

The sport can literally be played in many variations (and is depending on the area of the country you are in) to accommodate all players, including those with special needs. It is a low-impact, yet active, alternative to gain a physical workout while having fun.

“I saw a need in Cedar Rapids for adult social sports,” Irlmeier said. “I started my own company to provide opportunities for adults to play sports, socialize and grab a cold drink after work. I didn’t really see an organization that provided that with a social sports aspect.”

Comments: justin.webster@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.