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Cynthia Reeves | SBJ

Business Spotlight: On the Board

Organizing cornhole tournaments becomes a side business for three local professionals

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Bap. Boom. Swoosh.

These are the sounds of the game of cornhole – bags hitting boards, with hope that one or more falls into the cut-out hole. The sounds are heard every Tuesday night during Springfield Cornhole League play at Club Rodeo.

The SCL is a labor of love – turned side business – for three local professionals. And one of them is pursing the professional cornhole circuit.

“We do not have a pro in Springfield. I’m really hoping to be the first one,” says league co-owner Brigett Kirkhaug. “I’ll find out in a couple of weeks.”

That drive to become a professional “thrower” was part of the impetus for her and partners to buy Springfield Cornhole LLC from founders Paul and Jenna Folbre.

The league was organized in 2018, and by summer 2021 Kirkhaug and her husband, Fredrik, along with fellow player Derek Schwartze joined the Folbres as co-owners. The trio acquired the league for an undisclosed amount from the Folbres in May.

The owners say the league exists to grow the sport of cornhole in a fun and family environment. But don’t misread that. They do take it seriously – for those wondering who’s the better player: “I’d say I’m the better player now,” Brigett Kirkhaug says of her husband. “He used to be a lot better. My husband has taken a back seat to playing – he does more of the running of events.”

The events are serious, too.

It’s organized under the American Cornhole League, and the Springfield group holds regional qualifying tournaments.

In the Tuesday night league, there are about 50 teams, each paying a $50 entry, and 100 players for each six-week season. The next begins on Sept. 13, and cash prizes are issued to first through third places in each division.

SCL recreational play is held on Mondays, what’s called “swap nights,” without a commitment to the weekly league.

“You just show up and get a random partner for four games,” Kirkhaug says.

The regional events draw players from 100 miles away and more, she says, and they’re livestreamed on Facebook.

“It’s an all-weekend event, where we see people come in from Kansas City, Jefferson City and the Rogers-Bentonville area. They’re trying to collect points for their leagues,” she says.

Another aspect of Springfield Cornhole is charity fundraising and corporate events. Kirkhaug says the league structures and promotes the event, furnishes equipment – the bags and boards, scoring towers as well as software and tablets for tracking the game play – and provides roughly six hours of staff time to run and announce the tournament. The charge for the charity/corporate service begins at $500, she says, and recent fundraising efforts have benefited the local chapters of Court Appointed Special Advocates and Alzheimer’s Association, and In Time of Need Foundation.

Kirkhaug says the bags – originally filled with corn feed, hence the name of the game, but now typically plastic pellets – are sourced from all over the country.

The boards, though, are all produced locally – after Troy Schliem came on the scene.

Schliem’s been hand-carving cornhole boards in his garage wood shop for six years, and his side business has evolved to become SCL’s official board sponsor.

He sells roughly 75 sets a year at $375-$400. It’s enough business to fill time outside of his day job in hardware sales for Jack Henry & Associates Inc.

“I made myself some, and the next thing you know I was making my friends some and friends of friends. I thought I should make some money off it,” Schliem says of his hobby turned business.

He started playing in SCL two years ago and pitched his custom boards.

“They didn’t seem too interested at first,” he says.

But he persisted and knew how seriously the league operators took the game and equipment. Schliem asked if he could bring some boards to the next game night – if nothing else he’d get a professional review for his own quality control efforts.

“Everybody liked the product,” he says. “The next thing I know they started ordering their boards from me.”

Now, he supplies 100% of SCL’s boards – and they’re only made to ACL speculations.

The boards and the bags represent the technicalities of the game. According to the ACL, boards used in competitive play must be 4 feet by 2 feet “and will measure no higher than 3.5 inches on the front and 12 inches on the back when set up. The tolerance for tops is no smaller than 47.5 inches long by 23.5 inches wide.” Pro play requires cabinet-grade wood.

“There are so many stats behind this. It’s really technical,” says Kirkhaug.

Kirkhaug works with numbers full time as a rates and fuels analyst for City Utilities of Springfield. One cornhole stat she’s had her eye on is 32. She recently competed in the ACL World Championship in South Carolina, with the top 32 players qualifying for the ACL pro circuit – where games air on CBS and ESPN. There were 800 people vying for the spots.

“I lost my game to stay alive, 21-20. That was a hard day,” Kirkhaug says. “It was the first time I’ve been to worlds. To see all the people I’ve watched on TV playing in person was an eye-opening experience.”

Her dreams aren’t dashed. The ACL will appoint pros through an application process based on rankings and personal records. Kirkhaug is the ACL’s reigning women’s singles champ in the Midwest Conference and in Missouri. 

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