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Inside Events: American Cornhole Association

29 Nov, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An interview with Trent Henkaline, Owner and CEO

www.playcornhole.org

The American Cornhole Association is the first and largest governing body for the sport of Cornhole. It sanctions events and provides information on rules and upcoming tournaments, leagues and organizations. Its website provides a comprehensive listing of cornhole-related competitions and activities.

Sports Destination Management: The sport of cornhole has been popular for a while and it just seems to keep growing. What do you attribute the growth to?

Trent Henkaline: Different things. First, it’s a very social sport. You meet a lot of people playing it. Second, there’s a very wide age group that can play it – from kids all the way up to senior citizens. It’s also really easy to learn; you can literally explain the rules in five or 10 minutes and anyone can start playing.

SDM: What’s the demographic of the average cornhole player?

Henkaline: The sport is male-dominated, although there are plenty of women who do play. I’d say the most active group in cornhole is males age 21 to 45.

SDM: Are there professional tournaments?

Henkaline: Yes, there are probably two to three major events a year, and what we would classify as a major event is by the prize pool; a person could win $10,000 or more. We’re hoping next year to be able to put a tournament big enough to have between $100,000 and $150,000 in prize money. About two years ago, we had an event in Nashville that brought in either $25,000 or $50,000 in prize money.

SDM: What generates that amount of prize money – is it sponsorship dollars, registration revenues or something else?

Henkaline: A lot of it is sponsorship, plus players do pay to be in the event.

SDM: Are the sponsors local businesses, or vendors who supply cornhole equipment?

Henkaline: Sponsorship is more on a local level – local bars or a beer company or something like that.

SDM: When it’s being played at the tournament level, is cornhole a team sport, an individual sport or both?

Henkaline: It’s both a team and a single sport. You can play in different divisions too – co-ed, juniors, etc. In tournaments, you can also sign up for a blind draw for teams so you can meet new people.

SDM: So there are skill levels?

Henkaline: Yes, most of the tournaments, they’ll try to break into anywhere from pro class to novice.

SDM: How do you classify people?

Henkaline: A combination: their skill level, plus any presence on the tour.

SDM: Does ACA sanction tournaments?

Henkaline: We do; our rules are on our website. People can also go on our website and list their events. The website gets approximately one million unique visitors per year.

SDM: If you’re picking a spot for a tournament, what are you looking for?

Henkaline: For a competitive tournament, we prefer something indoors because obviously you won’t have to deal with rain – or with wind, which can affect how the bag is being tossed. And realistically, when you’re running a tournament and a lot of people are coming in, you can’t have bad weather keeping you from playing.

SDM: How many players are you talking about?

Henkaline: For a big tournament, you can get 300 to 500 players. Add in spectators, and you can have 500 to 1,000 people.

SDM: Are there smaller tournaments regionally?

Henkaline: There are literally thousands of charity tournaments throughout the year, which attract maybe 50 to 100 players. I just got off the phone with someone who wants to raise $25,000 for a cause and they have 150 teams so that’s 300 people – that is really common across the U.S.

SDM: What kind of space do you look at for tournaments? A convention center? A hotel ballroom?

Henkaline: A hotel ballroom could easily work. For around 30 to 40 teams, you would need to set up five courts, and in a double elimination format, it would take about four to five hours.

SDM: If someone wants to host a large tournament, how should they go about indicating interest?

Henkaline: They can go through our website.

SDM: Is it primarily an American sport or is it worldwide?

Henkaline: It’s amazing how many people have heard of cornhole. In the past couple weeks, we’ve gotten e-mails from Canada, Israel and Germany but yes, it’s predominantly in the U.S.

SDM: Are there any specific growth areas?

Henkaline: Right now, it’s really growing on the west coast. The sport actually started in the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky areas, with people playing it at tailgates. Tailgates are social places, and people would go by, see it played, try it out and then take the idea home with them to their own college or city. It really was first spread through football tailgating and it mushroomed from there. It started to move south about two years ago, and now we’re seeing growth in Texas, California, Arizona, all around there.

SDM: Any misconceptions about cornhole?

Henkaline: People maybe don’t understand how easy and fun it is. I think as a sport, it’s much more inclusive than, say, a backyard football game since anyone can play, no matter what their ability. If you’re at a cookout, playing a game is more fun than just sitting around.

SDM: It seems like cornhole equipment, like the boards and the bags, are all readily available. When it comes to buying equipment, is there different professional-grade equipment as opposed to something you’d buy at a big-box store?

Henkaline: Well, we just started our own sets, so people can buy products that are all made in the USA if they go through us. I can’t say that about the stuff in the big-box stores.

SDM: It seems like, despite having a pro level, the sport of cornhole is very welcoming; you see it everywhere from tailgates to picnics to backyards.

Henkaline: It’s a great sport – my father loved to play; even when he was in his sixties, he could compete with people in their twenties. It’s not a physically demanding sport where you’re going to get hurt. It’s not a cutthroat sport; people generally aren’t out to win at all costs. Maybe at a big tournament where there’s money involved, but not in general.

SDM: And it seems to be a low-risk sport. No concussions?

Henkaline: No CTE here.

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