Team Spirit: CornholeATL league brings social recreation to the city

CornholeATL players take aim at a match at Atkins Park.

On a cool damp Tuesday evening behind Atkins Park tavern in Virginia-Highland with a draft beer in one hand a bag in the other, Carol Baylor lands the bag on the board as she warms up for a game of cornhole. After winning the CornholeATL beginners division city championship in the fall, she and teammate Wendy Dickerson are giving the intermediate level a go.

“It’s really taken off,” Baylor said.

If you’re looking for a social league this spring, consider signing up this month with a few friends or as a “free agent” for CornholeATL, Atlanta’s largest and fastest growing cornhole league.

New to cornhole? Two boards are spaced 27 feet apart front-to-front. Each team rotates tossing eight bags with one point awarded for a bag on the board, three per bag in the hole. The team with the most points is awarded the net score. This repeats until a team reaches 21. Each match consists of three games, with the winner taking two out of three games.

“When people see beginner, intermediate, and advanced divisions, they think it’s competitive. Let’s be honest, it’s cornhole – a great way to meet people, hang out and have a beer during the week,” CornholeATL founder and owner Jeff Brawand said. “People who met at CornholeATL in the Highlands have gotten married or gotten jobs.”

Originally from Cincinnati where cornhole “is just massive,” Brawand would play in the evenings and on the weekends. He first joined a kick ball league, but worried about pulling a muscle as he got older but still played like a kid. Plus he had to hide his drinks. He took that as a cue to start his own cornhole league.

“I missed playing with friends and the casual aspect of it,” Brawand said.

CornholeATL founder Jeff Brawand, fourth from left, hangs out with players.

So in 2011, he started CornholeATL with about 50 players in John Howell Park every Tuesday. He kept the boards under a tarp at his wife’s (then girlfriend’s) nearby porch and used her SUV to transport them to/from the park.

A police raid set in motion the model for growing the league. Two squad cars with four armed officers descended upon John Howell Park after neighbors complained that “people were throwing objects in the park.” A few open container tickets prompted Brawand to find a venue where players could legally drink and play.

Brawand reached out to Atkins Park in Virginia-Highland and started CornholeATL’s first official league at a private venue.

“The police raid was the best thing that could have happened. It created a win/win/win – we get registration fees, bars get business on an otherwise slow night, and sponsors provide specials for our players,” Brawand said.

This spring season, about 1,400 CornholeATL players will participate at more than a dozen locations in greater Atlanta, including Three Taverns Brewing in Decatur, plus two new locations in Athens.

It’s a deal at $50 per person for seven weeks ($45 if you sign up early). Anyone age 21 and over is welcome. The League provides equipment, league manager, league shirts, season ending prizes and weekly specials the various bar/restaurant locations.

“Sign up for whatever division you think is best for you,” Brawand said. There’s guidance on the website. But as a rule-of-thumb, if you don’t hit the board pick beginner or if you sink it in the hole every time pick advanced. Different levels ensure all players have fun and games last longer than 10 minutes.

That January evening at Atkins Park veteran CornholeATL players, Katherine Evans and Janelle DeCosta, offer encouragement to those pondering joining the league.

“Anyone can do it. It’s nice to have a regular hang out every week ,“ DeCosta said.

To register, cornholeatl.com/leagues.

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