The Event That Almost, But Never Was…

Like many of you, I have found myself with a lot more time on my hands. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I look forward to more family time, just not the idea of never leaving my house.

So in this free time I’ve had some time to reflect on cornhole and the event that almost, but never was. There’s no doubt I have a bit more detail in this write-up than you probably care to read, but hey, like I said, I had some time.

This is the cover of the ACL Cleveland National Brochure that very few players (if any) received. I believe one to two thousand of these were printed, just one more thing the ACL did for their players to make this a great event.

My Background
I started playing cornhole back in 2008. My goal at first was to win a game in the new league I joined, but quickly changed to trying to be the best player in the game come 2009. I never achieved that goal, but held my own against the best of the best. I beat Steve Vanderver in a game, but lost the match. I beat Matt Guy in a match, but he still won the tournament. I had beaten the best, although admittedly the game back in 2009-2010 was nowhere near what it is today and to be honest, Matt beat me over and over again after my one lucky win. However, in 2010 that other cornhole organization changed everything for me. They changed their rules, they kept the “guaranteed” prize money they had promised to pay out and my desire to be the best quickly came to an end because the only National organization that existed had ruined it for me. I still loved to play though so I kept playing mostly locally and occasionally traveled for an event here and there. 

Then something changed, in 2011 another organization popped up, the ATL (American Tailgating League) run by Stacey Moore was having a big money event in Vegas the same weekend as that other organization’s “World” championships. I wanted to go to Vegas, I would have gone and likely would have had a lot of success, but it wasn’t meant to be as my Dad passed away and we had his funeral the same weekend. Nevertheless that’s when I first reached out to Stacey Moore as I was hoping he would be the one that might be willing to give cornhole a shot at a more National level. Actually I was hoping “she” would be interested as our communication was just through email and like most, I didn’t think Stacey was a he.

That same year the Cahill’s who had run our local league for quite some time were looking for someone to take over after getting burned by that other organization, so they asked me if I wanted to do it. I agreed and my focus changed over from being a player to more about trying to grow the game. In early 2012 I took over NEO Cornhole and decided to change the name to Cleveland Cornhole. At that time I also started the “Ohio Cornhole Tour” (OCT). Just based on the name you can tell it was never intended to try and become something National, but more local. The OCT had a few good years, but I didn’t have the money or time to try and make it National in any way. However, my desire to somehow bring a massive cornhole event to Cleveland was started. We had a solid player base, we were in the heart of the cornhole world (the Midwest), why not Cleveland?

Fortunately, Stacey Moore never gave up on Cornhole and eventually gave up the idea of Tailgating events with a bunch of games (cornhole being one of them) and changed over to just Cornhole now calling his organization the ACL (American Cornhole League). It started slowly, in fact the very first ACL National ever was held in Akron, OH (45 minutes south of Cleveland). It had a whopping 90-100 players and while it was a bit of a disappointment as far as number of players, it was a starting ground for something that could be great.

Most of you know the rest of the story. Stacey was willing to spend the money to put cornhole on ESPN3. Yes, ESPN3, internet/app only. You would only know it’s there if you were a cornhole fan and searched for it. But then it happened. ESPN liked the way it played on screen and decided to give it a shot on ESPN2. It was a hit! With no advertising or promotion from ESPN, the broadcast received good ratings and social media exploded over cornhole. Sure, a lot of the comments were “These are athletes?” or “ESPN doesn’t have anything better to show?” But people were talking about it and ESPN continued to show cornhole and ratings continued and continue to be strong.

ACL Cleveland National
Anyway, all of that led up to 2019. In 2019 I reached out to a local organization to see if they would be interested in helping to bring a National event to Cleveland. They agreed to discuss it with the ACL. It wasn’t a go at first, but after many discussions, the ACL agreed that they would bring an ACL National to Cleveland in March 2020. I didn’t make this event happen, but I did plant a seed which eventually grew into the biggest ACL event to date. The event SOLD OUT in 100 minutes! Over 750 players in 100 minutes and then hundreds more put on waitlists throughout the day when registration first opened. It was incredible in many ways. Incredible that we sold out, but also incredible that players (many of them local) did not get in either, or only were able to sign-up for one event. I was happy and sad as there was nothing I could do for the players who missed out. It was a learning experience for the ACL and myself. We all thought it would probably sell out, but not so quickly. We did what we could to add another 250 spots and we ended with over 1,100 unique players NOT INCLUDING many more who would be coming just for blind draws, or just for crew cup or other events. It was likely that this event would have 1,250 or more unique players and probably a couple hundred more who would be coming just to watch.

So although many players would be left out, the event moved forward. We had planned for 175 sets of boards, we had a specific area set-up just for sit-n-go blind draws. We had a featured board area with 4 sets of boards where the “big” games would be played. We had the ESPN set-up with many VIP seats already sold. We had over 100 tablets fired up and ready to go. It was going to be epic! And it sure looked epic. I don’t recall any event has ever had so many sets of boards ready to be played on. Here’s just a couple of pics of them.

Cleveland Convention Center – Thursday March 12th

Then the week finally arrived. More and more people asking about how the blind draws would work? How do they get VIP seats? Does it cost money just to come and watch? What time is ESPN? Then on Monday March 9th it happened, the first 3 cases of COVID 19 had arrived in Ohio. It had already hit other states, but not officially in Ohio. This was just 4 days before the biggest event in ACL History! But no big deal right? 3 cases when other states had hundreds already, surely we would still be fine for one more week.

But our governor did not agree. On Monday he immediately made a public statement that Ohio was not going to mess around, but still, no big deal right? The week continued and on Tuesday night Trey Ryder asked me if I would be willing to be a guest on the ACL Throwdown. I of course said yes and we recorded the show with it to be released on Thursday. However, it was never released and that particular recording never will be.

On Wednesday I was asked by the ACL to join Christine Papcke and Eli Stevens on Fox 8 in the morning to help promote the big event so we did. Kristi Capel (host) was great, she wasn’t afraid of the virus and seemed at least excited about the cornhole event. They gave us over 5 minutes on the morning show which was awesome. It felt like things were going to be fine…

Then Wednesday afternoon the Governor said he was going to have more strict restrictions that would be announced either Thursday or Friday. OK, more restrictions, I mean Washington State was hit very hard and only had limits of 250 people together, so surely Ohio which had 3 cases would have higher limits right?  500 people, 1000 people? Nobody knew. Of course Wednesday night March 11th the sports world took a major hit. An NBA player had tested positive for the Coronavirus. The NBA which had announced they were going to play games with no fans immediately cancelled games. 1-2 of those games even had fans which already arrived at the games that would be cancelled. This was the beginning of everything being shut down. 

The next day (Thursday) more and more sports announced they were not going to play or delay their games. And of course then it happened, the Governor of Ohio held a press conference around 2:30pm. He was going to say 750-1000 people limit right? Nope, 100! Wait, 100? Washington was 250. Yes, 100. But wait, he did specifically say sporting events can still go on with no fans so the show was going to go on. The ACL stayed in contact with both the Cleveland Convention Center and the County throughout the day and they continued to say we were a go. That is until we weren’t. Somewhere around 10pm Cuyahoga County decided it was no longer a go and the dream Cleveland event quickly came to be the event that almost, but never was.

Before it had begun, it was over. Some players were of course upset, others understood, but nobody was happy. In the end I actually had/have no issues with what the governor decided to do. Being a resident of Ohio I know he did it and is doing it for the safety of Ohioans and thus I support him in his decision, but I am sorry for those that were put on the waitlist and never made it into the event. I am sorry for those that traveled to Cleveland and never got to play. I am sorry if you came to town and thought our city sucks, but it doesn’t. I mean you couldn’t write a book on how all of this played out and have someone believe it. If our event was a week earlier it would have been a go with no issues. If it was a week later it would have been cancelled a week in advance which would have sucked, but at least nobody would have traveled. In the end I don’t know that Cleveland will ever get the chance to host another major cornhole event of this size, but just know that it was going to be awesome, that’s a guarantee.

Stay safe out there cornhole family, until next time.

Dave Weiser