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Teen cornhole players got athletic scholarships. Even they were shocked.

Teen cornhole players got athletic scholarships. Even they were shocked.

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

High school seniors Gavin Hamann and Jaxson Remmick sat ready to pledge to continue their athletic careers at a small South Carolina university during last week’s national signing day.

But unlike their classmates, who were signing to play football, basketball and other traditional sports, Hamann and Remmick were making history. They’re believed to be the first students to receive athletic scholarships to play college cornhole.

The popular lawn game, which requires contestants to sink beanbags into a hole in a wooden board 27 feet away, has been played on college campuses for decades. But it’s taken off competitively only in the past few years. Hamann and Remmick have tested their skills at national competitions, winning their first tournament two years ago. They’ve since been labeled two of the country’s best high school players by the American Cornhole League, a sanctioning body for professional cornhole.

Still, they were surprised when Winthrop University, hoping to be a trailblazer for college cornhole, offered them athletic scholarships a few months ago that will cover about half of their tuition fees. While the 17-year-olds had never considered playing cornhole in college, Hamann and Remmick hope to be the faces of a growing sport.

“We were as shocked as everybody else,” Hamann said.

The duo’s journey started a few years ago. Hamann and Remmick joined their parents’ weekly cornhole tournaments at a Littleton, Colo., bar in 2021. As adults drank beer and ate appetizers around them, Hamann or Remmick often left with $60 after winning the tournaments. It was an easy return on their $5 buy-ins.

At the time, they were focused on other sports. Hamann was a soccer defender; Remmick wanted to play catcher for a college baseball team.

But as their passion for cornhole grew, they learned about professional tournaments. One of them — the American Cornhole League, which was founded in 2015 and has been broadcast on ESPN and CBS — announced that it was holding an inaugural high school championship in December 2021 and January 2022.

Hamann and Remmick gathered two of their friends and picked up silver and green shirts to represent their high school, ThunderRidge, at the event in Myrtle Beach, S.C. To their surprise, the four won the competition against teams from about a dozen other schools, earning the $8,000 prize for their school.

After that, Hamann and Remmick practiced throwing bags almost every day. Their parents flew with them across the country for more tournaments.

Hamann and Remmick often played as partners in doubles tournaments, in which their points were combined. They sometimes won thousands of dollars from the tournaments they had spent between $15 and $200 to enter.

Still, Hamann and Remmick’s hobby wasn’t quite earning coolness points at school.

“I was super embarrassed about it,” Remmick said about playing cornhole. “It’s just weird to tell people like, ‘Yeah, I got a cornhole tournament tonight.’”

But America’s favorite beanbag game was gaining speed as a competitive sport. Dusty Thompson, a 42-year-old who played professional cornhole from 2018 to 2021, said he was at a summer tournament in Rock Hill, S.C., when Winthrop University’s athletic director approached him.

Winthrop’s campus is just over a mile north of the American Cornhole League’s Rock Hill headquarters. Hoping to capitalize on the university’s location, the athletic director, Chuck Rey, asked Thompson to help turn Winthrop’s club cornhole team into a nationally recognized program.

Cornhole is not sanctioned by the NCAA, so college club teams compete in tournaments arranged by other organizations. By recruiting nationally recognized players, Rey said, he believed Winthrop could build publicity in an up-and-coming sport.

“I’ve always believed here at Winthrop that we can win national championships,” Rey said. “And this is another area that I believe we can be nationally competitive.”

Thompson accepted a coaching job at Winthrop and made a list of high school players he wanted to recruit. Having watched Hamann and Remmick’s highlights at a few tournaments, they were his top targets.

But Hamann and Remmick were making other college plans. Hamann wanted to study entrepreneurship at Florida State University; Remmick was considering attending a local college or taking a gap year.

After Thompson contacted them in the fall, though, Hamann and Remmick visited Winthrop in January. While on campus, the American Cornhole League hosted a tournament including nearly a dozen professional players. After watching Hamann and Remmick win the doubles championship, Thompson was convinced they could change the sport.

“We’re building a program that nobody else is offering,” Thompson said.

Winthrop’s annual out-of-state tuition fees cost about $31,312, but Hamann said his and Remmick’s scholarships will cover about half of their expenses their first year. They’ll still participate in American Cornhole League tournaments but will wear Winthrop uniforms in the university’s colors: garnet and gold. Thompson said the university will buy championship rings if they win the American Cornhole League’s college national championship next winter.

But before moving this summer, Hamann is teaching Colorado elementary school students how to play cornhole, hoping to develop the next generation of college players.

“We get to kind of pave the pathway for this new thing to come,” he said.

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