Gamers come out of the woodwork

Competitors eye a flying yellow beanbag in the recent cornhole tournament at Glenwood Springs High School. The tournament was the outgrowth of an innovative woodshop program taught by Matt Miller, pictured at far right in the background. Students built the colorful cornhole sets shown in use and leaning against the wall behind the competitors.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Ralph Smalley’s Ohio State University T-shirt was the giveaway.

In a recent all-comers tournament involving the game of cornhole, reputed to have at least its domestic origins in the Buckeye State, the shirt offered a strong sign that Smalley was a competitor to keep an eye on.

The novel game’s roots is what attracted the Ohio native to the event, which also turned out to serve as a showcase for a novel project for students in the Roaring Fork School District’s woodshop classes.

Cornhole is a simple backyard game that has sprung to popularity over the past few decades. Competitors try to toss a beanbag onto a wooden board and ideally into a hole in the board. Supposedly cornhole bags used to be filled with corn.

The game is said to possibly date back centuries to Germany, only to be rediscovered in the Cincinnati area, although some other Midwestern (and corn-growing) states reportedly take issue with Ohio’s claim to the game.

Now it’s also becoming better known out West, even to the point of being seen on car-camping trips, at Denver Broncos tailgate parties — and as a focal point of a local school district project and fundraiser. Students of Matt Miller, who teaches an innovative woodshop program at Glenwood Springs High School and Carbondale’s Roaring Fork High School, built the boards and they were offered for sale in a silent auction during the tournament to help fund the program.

“It’s a great project. It covers so many disciplines,” Miller said of the cornhole-game undertaking, which involved designing patterns, learning to use woodshop tools and painting the boards in colorful schemes.

It’s all part of what’s called (co)studio, an educational initiative of the Carbondale-based Houses for Higher Education nonprofit, working in conjunction with Roaring Fork schools and also taught at Basalt High School.

Rachel Connor, director of Houses for Higher Education, said the goal of (co)studio is to promote a vocational education revolution, with students getting involved in a design-and-build approach to community-relevant projects. The approach, which Miller also has taught in other states, also makes use of professional mentors such as architects, and Miller is an architect by training himself. As students develop their skills, they undertake community-scale projects that can run the gamut from chicken coops to a high-end concession stand being planned at Glenwood High.

Even the cornhole project, while basic, provided a chance for the students to do something on behalf of the public.

“I had probably 20 students (at the tournament). They got to see the community come out and have fun with something they built,” Miller said.

“It was pretty simple but it taught us a lot of stuff,” Glenwood freshman Anton Freeman said of the cornhole project.

Like the project, cornhole itself is simple — “nothing complicated,” as Basalt High School senior Wilber Marquez described it.

He said it’s a game people of lots of differing abilities can play.

But of course some are better than others. Turns out that Smalley did indeed prove to be tops at the recent tournament, while teamed up with Marquez. Marquez was at the event after having won a Basalt High School student tournament put on by Smalley.

He’s the physical education teacher there, but conceded that he has Ohio connections, having graduated from Youngstown State University.

“I played in a lot of tournaments there and they get pretty big,” he said.

As for Miller, he was on the second-place team in the tournament. And he, too, acknowledged having some longtime experience with cornhole that he thinks began with learning it at his mom’s house — in Cleveland.

“I played a lot,” he said about this game that can be indeed be addicting — and educational.


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