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Delaware man is a cornhole pro and ambassador for the sport


MILFORD, Del. (AP) — When some people hear the word “cornhole,” they chuckle and think it’s a game that can’t be taken seriously.

Well, funny name or not, Rudy Thomas, 34, of Milton, has played it professionally for three years and recently organized a 26-team, 52-player league called the “Usual Suspects,” whose members take to the boards each Tuesday at the Milford Elks Lodge.

Mr. Thomas said that, much like horseshoes, pickleball, bowling or even golf, cornhole can be considered a “lifetime” sport that can be played into one’s golden years.

“This has kind of taken over horseshoes,” he said. “Anybody can play. I’ve got kids (at the Elks Lodge), women that play, elderly people that play, middle-aged. … The great thing about it is everybody comes here, and there’s no drama. We’re just having fun. I love it.”

An indoor or outdoor activity, cornhole involves players taking turns throwing 16-ounce fabric bags filled with corn kernels at a raised platform (called the “board”) with a hole in its far end from 27 feet away.

A bag that goes in the hole scores three points, while one left on the board scores one. Play continues until a team reaches or exceeds 21.

Ralph Floyd, Mr. Thomas’ cousin, introduced him to cornhole at a get-together with family and friends several years ago.

Mr. Thomas admits he was initially frustrated but then immediately was taken by the game.

“I came home from college one weekend and went to a little barbecue and played against (Mr. Floyd and his cornhole partner), and they destroyed me,” he said. “I’m a competitor, so once I found out that (cornhole) is a big thing, plus with them talking trash to me, I said, ‘Nah, I’ve got to find a way to get better at this.’

“So I went and got myself a set of cheap boards and started practicing and got to the point where I could constantly start beating some people. I’ve still got some work to do to get up there where they’re at to win a national championship, but that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Mr. Floyd, of Lincoln, is also a cornhole professional who has played in numerous big tournaments, including one at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where he and a partner placed third out of 128 teams.

“When I first started, yes, people were like, ‘You play cornhole? What the heck is that?’” said Mr. Floyd. “Cornhole gives you something to do and keeps you out of trouble. It’s very fun once you start learning how to play and start getting better. It’s very interesting.”

Mr. Thomas is also spreading the word about cornhole and the opportunities to play it by organizing the Usual Suspects league in Milford.

John Sammons, president of the Milford Elks Lodge, said he opened the doors to his facility a year ago, after the league lost its original location.

“I think it’s great,” Mr. Sammons said. “This is a good place for them to come and socialize, and they’ve got plenty of room here to play cornhole. Personally, I have not played cornhole, but it’s fun to watch.”

During the March 8 gathering at the lodge, cornhole boards and loud chatter filled the room, as players tossed bags back and forth.

“I just enjoy it. It’s good people, a good time,” said Brian Jester of Milford. “It’s a nice little hobby to get into, and if you want some peace, just come out here and play cornhole. It’s relaxing and a good way to unwind.”

Laurel’s Lauren Balas just started playing in November. She said she’s still in the process of learning the game’s intricacies.

“I like the challenge of it,” she said. “The more practice you get, the better you get. There are days that I’m better and days that I’m worse. It kind of just depends. I played softball for years, and like that, this just takes practice.”

Mr. Thomas said every player seems to have a different approach.

“Keeping the bag flat is definitely an art,” he said. “You see a lot of people that, when it’s their first time playing, they let their bags just flop as they go. It’s definitely something that you have to get used to.

“Not one person has the same style as another person here. So it’s definitely different styles.”

There is one thing that Mr. Thomas absolutely believes in: Inexperienced players should go against more experienced ones and be all ears to absorb some of their knowledge, win or lose.

“Everybody gets to play against everybody once,” he said. “That way, instead of just watching, you’re right next to a player and seeing how they do it and what makes them better and what makes them consistent. I’m a firm believer in, (to get) better, you have to play better players.”

Whether it’s tossing bags at the Delaware Taco Festival in Wilmington or at Paradise Grill in Long Neck — or mentoring others as they play in his league — the sport never gets old for Mr. Thomas.

“I played pro for three years, and I’ve been on the main stage playing against some big names,” he said. “Me signing pro, I’ve met so many people, and (forming a league) definitely tops a lot of other things.

“Just bringing all these people here together that probably wouldn’t see each other or run together, … we come here and have fun, and it’s all about fun.”

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