Signal Tribune: News Article

Meet the cornhole enthusiasts bringing the lawn sport to Long Beach, tournament-style...!!!

MARCH 10, 2022

Pete Cuellar, tournament director for Long Beach Cornhole, holds a set of cornhole bags before a tournament on March 9, 2022, at Trademark Brewing in Long Beach. The bags were filled with dried corn kernels in the past, but modern bags use plastic beads to maintain standardization. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

On Wednesday, March 9, the outdoor patio at Trademark Brewing was alive with the sound of bean bags smacking and thudding onto wooden boards.

It’s the same scene every other Wednesday, when Long Beach Cornhole commandeers the 7,500 square-foot outdoor courtyard of the brewery for their bi-weekly tournaments.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are, male or female, everyone participates. Some of the best players in the world are 9 and 10 years old. Some are women, some are older men,” said Pete Cuellar, founder and tournament director of Long Beach Cornhole. “That’s the thing I love about it, anyone can compete.” 

This past Wednesday, 41 players paid their $15 entry fee and practiced on cornhole boards emblazoned with the Long Beach Cornhole logo, a shaka hand holding a bean bag. 

Players tossed sacks in their hands for a couple of moments (the flatter the bag, the better the throw) and braced one leg in front of them before tossing the bags underhand, aiming for a small hole in the wooden boards ten yards away.

Along with the sound of thumping bean bags were intermittent “ooh’s” and “ah’s” when bags narrowly missed their target. 

Player Shanese Wells watched from the sidelines. She’s been coming to the tournaments since 2019 and encouraged newcomers to try out the game.

“It doesn’t matter what your skill level is. You don’t need to be a super athlete, there’s nothing that makes you better at this than coming and doing it,” Wells said, noting that she’s gotten better through the years with the help of cornhole veterans at the event. (She’s made the top bracket twice.)

Aaron Hovis (right) throws one of his green cornhole bags towards the board while his practice partner Mike Coil (left) waits his turn to throw at a Long Beach Cornhole tournament at Trademark Brewing on March 9, 2022. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

Cuellar first started playing cornhole in his friend’s backyard in Los Alamitos around 2016. 

“We thought we were pretty good,” Cuellar said, so the group looked for tournaments nearby to flex their skills. 

At the time, the closest cornhole tournaments were in San Diego County and Ventura County.

“For a few years, that’s all there was,” he said. 

He and a few friends would travel down to San Diego or Ventura (where the league boasts 1,000 attendees with $30,000 cash prizes) once a month, but he dreamed of ditching the drive for a more local scene. 

When he learned Trademark Brewing was opening at the former site of a body shop, he knew they’d have the square footage to accommodate cornhole games. He reached out and they agreed to host the tournaments, and then he waited. The brewery didn’t open up for two more years. 

When the brewery opened in 2019, Wednesday night cornhole was on. 

“We started really, really slow,” he said. “Maybe 20, 30 people were showing up each week, which at the beginning is good.”

They held those tournaments for about half a year before COVID shut down the games. And when things reopened, their average increased to 40 to 50 people every week. On Feb. 20, their Sunday tournament attracted 94 players.

The cornhole community as a whole has grown since Cuellar first started playing. Players who once had to drive over 100 miles for a tournament can now find local tournaments in their area “almost every weekend,” Cuellar said.  “They’re everywhere.”

In 2017, ESPN started broadcasting the American Cornhole League. Even Millikan High School has its own cornhole group and some members come to the Trademark Brewing tournaments (which welcome players ages 18 and up).

“I’m telling you right now. It’s gonna be an Olympic sport pretty soon,” Cuellar said. “I would not be surprised.”

Though Long Beach Cornhole sets up its games tournament-style (complete with an LED scoreboard), he said the group focuses more on community than competition.

“I have better friends here that I’ve met through this than I’ve had my entire life,” said cornhole player Mike Coil, who’s been playing for over a decade. “I get more invites from people here to go do stuff than from people I’ve known for 20 years.”

The growth of the community is assisted by the format of the game: switcholio.

Though many attendees come with partners, switcholio pairs up random players with each other to compete for positions in the A and B brackets. 

“The reason you do that is because [Cuellar] wants you to meet everybody,” Coil said.

It also means that newcomers can be paired with veteran players, so no one team can dominate the competition (winners in each bracket leave with a cash prize).

Traci Sodal (right) and Pat Eden (left) practice cornhole together before starting a 40 player tournament at Trademark Brewing on March 9, 2022. Long Beach Cornhole organizes the bi-weekly Wednesday tournament. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

Even when there’s not a tournament going on, Trademark Brewing has cornhole boards set up on the courtyard every day of the week so people can feel out the game. Brewery owner and founder Sterling Steffen said that new players shouldn’t be intimidated. 

“I was blown away, the skill level of these people is really impressive,” Steffen said. “But they’re really lovely people who are really enthusiastic that anyone new wants to join the fold. They’re not looking to kick your butt and make you feel silly. They’re just so excited that the sport is growing.”

Cuellar hopes to expand. He’s considering adding more bars to the group’s roster and potentially holding an outdoor event at the beach if he can get the permits. 

“The most rewarding part is just creating something from nothing,” Cuellar said. “Building a platform in the city that I love of people that are passionate about the same thing.”

For those interested in playing, Long Beach Cornhole holds events at Trademark Brewing (233 E Anaheim St.) every other Wednesday. Players are encouraged to pre-register, as the game maxes out at 50 players. For more information, visit Long Beach Cornhole on Instagram or Facebook. 

The next tournament will take place on March 23. 

“Bags fly at 6:30,” Cuellar said.