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Bayou Bagz offers fun, practice for cornhole 'Kid Wonder'

Last Updated Aug 1, 2020 at 9:18 pm PDT

MONROE, La. — The first time Eian Cripps came to Bayou Bagz to play cornhole, he asked if they were going to make him throw from the kids’ line.

American Cornhole League regional director Beaux Ishee told Eian he could throw from anywhere he wanted, so the 10-year-old went back the full 27 feet to where the adults compete and started throwing bags straight into the hole on the board — air mail.

The room went quiet and everyone started watching Eian, Ishee said.

“None of us have really been playing very long. You know, not competitively. And so we were all starting to think that we were probably getting pretty salty, then a kid comes in here and just dominates, and he’s dominated from the word go since,” Ishee said.

Fondly called “Kid Wonder,” Eian picked up the game less than a year ago. Next month, he’ll be playing in the American Cornhole League Pro Qualifier in South Carolina against more than 200 adults.

FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME

His parents, Nick and Brandi Cripps, said one of his uncles brought a game on a family trip last year. Eian had been playing on plastic boards. Then another uncle had a “real” set around the house, and Eian was hooked. He asked for a set of boards for Christmas.

His mom wasn’t aware of how popular the sport is. It’s broadcast on ESPN and is gaining popularity. She never would have guessed this would be her son’s passion.

“Normally, he wasn’t a talker, but now he’ll carry on a conversation with everybody. He doesn’t meet a stranger,” Brandi said.

Ishee said he’s quiet until you get him playing, then he’ll talk all kinds of trash.

He jokes Eian was playing with his emotions when the two paired off recently.

The goal in cornhole is to reach 21 before your opponent. Each person takes turns and throws four bags total. One in the hole counts for three points, just being on the board counts as one point. If you can’t get your bag in the hole, you can try to knock your opponent off the board. And scores cancel out each round. So if you get 10 points, but the opposition gets eight, you add two points to your cumulative score.

Ishee was leading Eian 20-11. He noticed Eian made a few shots that didn’t seem to show smart strategy. In fact, he was giving away points, so he asked Eian about it.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m fixin’ to win.’ And he did. … He came back and beat me from 11 to 20. I only needed one freaking point, and I won. I couldn’t beat him,” Ishee said.

If you ask Eian what he likes best about the game, he’ll tell you “just the fun of the game, just having fun.”

When Eian’s not playing, he’s watching videos of pro matches. Nick said he can imitate just about any player’s signature move. (Eian’s next favourite thing to do is fish, but he’s mostly cornhole obsessed.)

“I don’t think he’s ever played against just kids, really,” Brandi said. He played a few online tournaments after the COVID-19 shutdown.

A RISING PHENOM IN THE CORNHOLE WORLD

Eian’s winning cash prizes, and his parents are encouraging him to save smart.

Since January, he’s won four single competitions. Three were competitive and one was advanced. Now, everyone is watching Eian.

Ishee said crowds flock to the Kid Wonder’s tournaments at regional tournaments.

People are sending him cornhole bags and merchandise at this point.

Nick said his son has about 26 or 27 sets of bags, and Eian only bought about a dozen of those.

Aug. 9 is the Pro Qualifier, and he has to be in the Top 32 to make pro. He’ll be competing against more than 200 adults in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

“The cornhole world has just stepped up behind him. They’ve been amazing,” Brandi said.

To fund the trip, the family has a raffle set up for locally donated prizes. A company that makes boards has donated a custom set in another raffle, and, of course, people can just donate.

If Eian goes pro, the prize pots get bigger and more eyes will be on him.

But he’s not letting success go to his head, and his advice for beginners applies to anyone of any age range.

“If you pick up the game, just keep on throwing and practicing if you want to get good at it,” he said.

BAYOU BAGZ GROWING IN POPULARITY

Eian was already good before he started going to Bayou Bagz, but he loves spending time with other players. He heard about the league on the radio and asked his parents to take him.

Brandi wasn’t initially enthused because she knew it would be a bunch of men, but they called Ishee, who said to bring him.

Ishee and a financial backer started Bayou Bagz last fall.

He’s been playing for about a decade, and many of his friends have played for years in backyards and at tailgate parties.

But he wanted to do something bigger.

They started with boards and scoreboards that meet ACL standards and about 10 sets of house bags.

Bayou Bagz was sharing a building with a business that used it during the day, and they played at night. Then the business expanded into nighttime hours, and Bayou Bagz was briefly in limbo.

They started meeting at The HUB Music Hall earlier this year.

Ishee said local businesses have been great about sponsoring them, and the club has almost totally recouped the initial investment. Once Bayou Bagz is in the clear. He’s planning to expand.

The popularity has been growing, and the ability to win cash doesn’t hurt. In addition to tournaments, there are air mail competitions.

Ishee’s regional director status with the ACL lets him hold events that can draw people from states away. Since Sept. 1, he’s run 75 tournaments, including small league tournaments and eight regional competitions.

He said the shutdown to halt coronavirus dented regular attendance, but there are many who come every week. The ACL, he said, developed safety regulations before mandates rolled out. It’s a game you can play from a safe distance.

Ishee’s main goal is to create a family friendly environment where any skill level can have a great time.

People will get hooked, he said, if they just come to play.

Dakota Minchew had never picked up a bag until last fall; then she threw some bags for something to do when she came with her boyfriend.

She’s really taken to the game on her own.

“I’m a competitive person,” she said.

At the end of the season, the league honoured her as the most improved player with a custom koozie and a sash.

“It felt good because I did come so far in it. I didn’t know how to hold a bag, throw a bag or anything. I couldn’t even throw it that far. And then I just kept on practicing and got better and then I started learning how to control the bag and everything,” she said.

Cornhole involves some strategy and largely boils down to muscle memory once you get the hang of the distances and how to throw from either side of the board.

Ishee said the beauty of the sport is in the relationships you make with other players. It’s all about fellowship.

“It’s real fun to come up here and play,” Eian said. “They’ll teach you some things too if you don’t know it.”

He’s still getting in all the practice throwing and trash talking he can.

“I’m real excited,” Eian said of the Pro Tour. He’s just planning to have fun and try to make it Pro.

Bonnie Bolden, Monroe News-Star, The Associated Press