Cornhole -- It's Only A Game!

Every Sunday at Hampton's Marker 20 restaurant, there's a cornholing contest!

Dozens partake, and at the end, the couple that's scored the most gets a cash prize!

That's right - like a growing number of southeastern Virginians, the Marker clientele takes part in the horseshoe-like sport of tossing beanbags toward a slanted board with a small hole in the middle!

Why? What did YOU think the term "cornholing" meant?

Marker owner Carlyle Bland got the idea during a vacation down south last summer.

"We were in Key West, and there was a bar where it was being held," Bland said, watching his patrons cheer each other on during a new round of bag bombing (it's free to play). "We just started playing it. We thought of it as a way to fill the afternoon on Sundays, a way to get people in."

As the summer heat made its way off, they stayed, he continued.

"We didn't think we'd be going this long into the season; we thought we'd do the summer and quit, but people keep braving the cold and rain to do it," he said (photos of past winners dot the restaurant's walls and tables). "I haven't seen the prize money leave the restaurant, so it's a wash for us. It's easy to play; you don't need a superior skill set." Players lob their bags from about 30 feet away. Bags that land on the box get one point; dropping through the hole is worth three.

"There's no secret," confessed Doug Johnson, who along with Sid Johnson (no relation) has formed one of Marker's most successful squads. "You just come out, drink a few beers, and aim for the hole. (Beer) doesn't help your aim, but it loosens you up. But win or lose, it's fun."

That may be why the game's spreading throughout Hampton Roads. Contests are common at Virginia Beach Amphitheater tailgates and Sportsplex parking lots. Peabody's, a bar in Virginia Beach, is scheduled to begin a weekly league of its own next week. According to the Virginia Beach Cornhole Web site, a national tournament is coming up at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront in early June, with another event in Norfolk over the Fourth of July weekend.

Kristina Ruhlman divides her bagging conquests between Marker and her colleagues at Langley's NASA, where she recently helped get a tournament going.

"I went to college in Iowa, and we played in our backyard," Ruhlman said. "It's a fun time playing it with friends."
Rusty Tatum also got his start at home.

"It takes time to find the right partner," he said. "You have to have the good combination where if you're not throwing well, your partner will be. If he throws one in, it sparks you up and gets you going again."

That's why he and Brian Jackson keep giving the Johnsons a run (or at least a throw) for their money.

"I played horseshoes a lot, and I was pretty good at it," Jackson said. "The game is very similar; it's a little shorter, but it has the same throwing style, and one or two beers don't hurt either. You have to concentrate on what you're doing and block everything out. A lot of it is competition; it brings out a better game."

And quite a bit of camaraderie, Sid adds.

"We spend all the money here," he said of an after-victory party. "We have a couple more beers, and maybe buy the losers a beer!"