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The City Journals

Cornhole joins pickleball and kickball as popular activity offered by Murray City

May 08, 2019 04:26PM ● By Carl Fauver

Murray Parks Director Cory Plant and Recreation Coordinator Leisl Morris play a round of cornhole, which they say is becoming one of the department’s more popular new activities. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

“Our job is to create or find healthy activities that get people up and moving, preferably as a family; we are constantly looking for the latest and greatest idea.”

That’s the simplest way Murray City Recreation Director Cory Plant knows to explain why the low-impact, ought-to-be-at-a-barbeque sport of cornhole is something his department has introduced to the public.

“We actually built our first pair of cornhole targets about eight years ago and set them up for play at various city events over the years,” Plant said. “But last year we decided there seemed to be enough interest in it to set up cornhole leagues. Our number of participants doubled from the first to second league – and we expect the popularity to continue to grow.”

You may be shocked at just how popular cornhole is across the country. For starters, Parks and Recreation Coordinator Larry Killips decided to introduce the activity after they each watched the Cornhole National Championships on ESPN. And Killips added, he was thinking seriously about introducing it even before finding it on basic cable.

“A couple of summers ago, I was back at a family reunion in Michigan where they had a cornhole set that was busy from sun up to sundown,” Killips said. “My relatives were joking, laughing and having fun playing it. So, I thought it would be a hit. Then when I was watching it on ESPN, a lady was barefoot and pregnant playing in the national tournament – so I knew it was something anyone can play.”

Cornhole targets have one hole – just large enough to swallow a corn bag if it’s thrown on target. Scoring is similar to horseshoes: close is “good” …in the hole is “better.” The targets are placed 27 feet apart. The bags look like what we have spent our lives calling “beanbags.” But they are filled with corn, so… 

“When we first started the league a year ago, players were complaining the bags were sliding off the targets too easily – so we called the manufacturers to ask them about it,” Killips added. “They said we needed to crush the corn kernels inside the bags, by driving over them several times with a truck tire. It might sound crazy but it worked. The complaints died down as the bags began to stick better on the targets.”

Last year’s first session featured six teams (of two to five players) while the second league ballooned to 16 teams. This year’s first session got underway April 23 and will run into early June. Sign-ups will begin soon for the second league, running from mid-June to early August. Play is held on Tuesday nights at Murray Park.

“We are also committed to hold a fall league, and might even have a winter, indoor league, if participation continues to grow,” Plant added. “As far as I know we are offering the only cornhole league in the state. Right now, it is for adults only. But I could see us starting kid’s leagues or teen leagues. It doesn’t require a lot of athletic ability; but people really seem to enjoy it.”

Among the newcomers to the activity were Murray residents Martha Valero, her sister, and each of their teenage sons.

“I had never played (cornhole) before, but saw them playing in Murray Park,” Valero said. “So, we signed up and had a great time. It was super fun, perfect weather…just a fun night out at the park. People are friendly. We all enjoyed it.”  

Murray Recreation officials are calling cornhole the most popular new activity they have introduced since getting behind pickleball a few years ago… and kickball, a few years before that.

Plant reported his department operates on an annual budget of about $2.5 million, which includes pay for eight full-time employees and about 250 part-time personnel.

“That includes lifeguards, referees and many, many other people,” Plant said.

Only about $2,000 has been spent gathering the department’s cornhole equipment. 

Plant has been with the department 35 years and its director for 31 of those years. Much newer to the fold is Recreation Coordinator Leisl Morris, who will hit three years in August. She coordinates youth soccer, track and field, Jr. Jazz basketball and other activities.

“I feel like my job is to help people learn how to have a good life – how to enjoy themselves more,” Morris said. “A big part of that, I think, is showing them ways to have fun with their children.”

As for what may be the next activity coming down the pipe, Plant said his department may try to reintroduce wiffleball – and they are also considering something he calls “kick golf,” which involves teams kicking a soccer ball through a course and into some type of bucket.

“Some of our cornhole players couldn’t hit a bull in the butt with a banjo when they started out,” Killips concluded. “They got better as the leagues continued. But that’s not even the point. We just want to get people up off their couch and help them remain active.”