The Internet is a vast and mythic place. I navigated it recently. Up popped several findings that can’t possibly be true.
First, there’s such a thing as an American Cornhole Organization serving as “the governing body” for the sport.
Then, there are world rankings of some 1,100 professional and amateur players.
And, no. This can’t be. Cresting toward the top is Danny Blanks of Fort Mill. How he and I haven’t crossed paths before I don’t know. Blanks, 33, has been living in my hometown for a dozen years. He married my childhood neighbor. We have dozens of the same virtual friends.
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Yet while he and I aren’t on each others’ Christmas card lists yet, the cornhole world knows plenty about him.
“This is his breakout year,” said recent Columbia-to-Charlotte transplant Jason Schwab, recognized as the best player in the Carolinas before Blanks laid claim. “People know him. He’s definitely considered one of the top tier players.”
Blanks is “a machine,” Schwab warns. I’ll need three or four holers per round against him or “otherwise you don’t plan on winning.” Here’s a guy who could drop a replica ship into a glass bottle from 30 feet. I find Blanks listed as No. 3 in the world in singles, No. 2 in doubles with partner Shane Andrews. Rankings fluctuate based on how recent and how local a big tournament was.
“It’s a game you can get good at quick,” said Matt Guy, the Babe Ruth of cornhole.
Six times there have been a King of Cornhole crowned as the world’s best player. Only once, it wasn’t Guy. But the sport is changing. Players like Blanks – he’s beaten Guy in doubles, but not singles – are moving in and making life difficult.
“Now if I have a bad game,” Guy said, “chances are I’m going to get beat.”
Blanks plays once a week close to home, when his reputation or tournament management doesn’t blackball him. He travels regionally about once a month. He could win $1,000 or more at a major event. He has qualified for the $10,000 purse King of Cornhole tournament in January at a Mississippi casino.
“They do the whole cape, crown, everything,” Blanks said. “There you make four at a time or you don’t score.”
I’m still getting over cornhole having an organizing body. I don’t know why I’m surprised. You practically can’t walk into a bar, beach, benefit or ballpark without a hard hat for all the flying bags. But to refresh, here goes.
Players get four tosses toward an inclined board at 27 feet. In the small hole toward the top is three points and on the board, one. Net difference in the players’ scores counts. First to 21 wins.
Blanks and I meet at Wing King Cafe, a popular cornhole joint in Fort Mill. He brings sunglasses and his own pro-style bags. I’m not bothered.
I’ve played while holding a sleeping infant. I’ve played so overloaded on barbecue, I could barely see straight. And let’s not kid ourselves – tossing bags at a painted board is a pleasant enough use of time, but it requires the athleticism of a grandfather clock.
Blanks doesn’t seem bothered. In cornhole circles, he’s known as “the pilot” for his airmail acumen. Basically it’s throwing over defensively placed bags just in front of the hole, dropping a three-pointer straight in without the slide. His personal best is 27 such consecutive shots. His traditional slide-and-drop record is 36 straight holers.
In the first frame I start cold, sliding off the board or missing to the side. Blanks holes three and boards another, scoring 10. So much for settling in.
We walk the pavement, turn and toss. We both board two and hole one, but I hole where he misses. That’s three points. Later I’ll realize, I just accomplished something.
“Usually they don’t score,” Blanks said of social players vs. pros.
I’m about to find out why. Up next, I hole two, which would turn heads at the cookouts I frequent. Blanks bottoms all four – 16-3. I litter the front board with bags and he pilots his over top – 18-3. I’m staggering.
Blanks goes for the knockout blow and lands it. I’m putting the bags through the hole. He’s putting them through faster – 24-3. It’s all over. Forget breaking a sweat. I’ve spent more time clipping toenails.
I can’t feel great about myself lasting five rounds. Blanks insists I should. Incredibly, he’s won faster. How long did that poor soul last?
“Down and back,” he says.
Adding insult to ineptitude, I find out later those kind words about my scoring three points, well, Blanks says the same thing to all the riffraff he hustles. Even at major events.
“Even when he’s whipping your (rear end),” Schwab said, “he’s telling you how great you’re throwing.”
There’s nothing underhanded about the guy except his throwing form. He’s as down to earth as a 12-point frame. Yet he’s played in coliseums, in the kind of tournaments where you hold up a giant cartoon check after you win and people take pictures. He has as good a chance as anyone to reach the goal of becoming the first Carolinas player crowned King of Cornhole.
The best part about him isn’t his uncanny consistency. It isn’t even his story of the time he “saw a guy Tazed right there beside me while I was throwing.” It’s his approach.
What’s the secret? It’s basically what every husband in America gets scalded for on occasion. Tuning out the outside world and trying, literally, not to think about anything.
“I’m very good at that, at home and on the court,” Blanks said.
Blanks figures I’m not too bad, and that five years or so of practice like he’s had and I could be something. Until then, it’s probably not a great idea for me or any other rookie to challenge him. Even if he is so accommodating you can’t help but pull for the guy.
“I’ll throw left-handed,” Blanks said.
On Your Marks is a monthly column where reporter John Marks takes on competition from the greater Lake Wylie and Fort Mill areas, challenging them in their field of expertise and profiling what makes them special. Check out past On Your Marks columns at lakewyliepilot.com. For ideas on who you think Marks should challenge next, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Your Marks Scoreboard
Competition: Pro cornhole player Danny Blanks of Fort Mill
Contest: One game of cornhole to 21 at Wing King Cafe
Score: I surprised even the pros by managing three points in the second frame, but it was far from enough. Final score: Blanks 24, Marks 3.