Sometimes when I write I like to start out with something informative, clever or maybe even nostalgic. I really just want it to be entertaining and interesting in hopes of having people read more than just the first paragraph! As you can tell by the title of this blog, I'm writing about State Championships. With the Texas Cornhole League's State Tournament in Abilene looming this week, I figure it would be fitting to write about some of my past State Tournament experiences, including my first TCL State Tournament.
Many of you know that for the past few years I've been a regular in the Texas Cornhole scene. I love the game, competing and maybe more than anything, seeing the group of friends that this game has introduced me to. The game provides me with the ability to satisfy my competitive urges that I have in my blood! I've been playing organized sports for around 50 years...yep, I'm not a spring chicken! I started out with little league baseball and was fortunate to be a part of a really good team that included a friend that I still talk with a few times a month. He and I played many various sports together including our first Championship team, a Shreveport City Basketball title in basketball as 6th graders at Atkins Elementary. I scored 1 point all season...and it didn't even count as my foot crossed the line on a free throw. We had a couple of real tall guys, Jimmy Blackwell and Keith Grant and some guys that could handle and shoot the ball well making our team very strong. I got to play late after those guys had built up big leads...mop up duty or whatever you want to call it, I didn't care, I was on the team and we were good!
I went to Woodlawn High School which had a tremendous athletic tradition. In the 60's Terry Bradshaw led the Knights to the State title game losing to Sulphur and couple of years later Joe Ferguson led them to the State Title with a perfect 14-0 season. That same year the basketball team fueled by Melvin Russell won a basketball title. The Track team won the state title that following spring and in 1972 Robert Parish led the Knights to another State basketball title. As a sophomore I watched as our team lost in the state semifinals to Covington High on a last minute interception touchdown return. My senior year I thought we had a chance for a title as our basketball team lost in the State finals and a few months earlier our football team made another run losing in the semifinals. The 70's were filled with many sports memories but most of which were sports I wasn't participating. That would soon change!
In the 80's I played softball and flag football...a lot! I was lucky enough to be a part of a few state title softball teams as well as 3 flag football championship teams. The first is probably my favorite as I finally won one as a player. I remember the long drive home back from south Louisiana and being exhausted but inside I felt so proud. Our team was a close knit bunch of rag tag guys who simply outwilled most of our opponents that weekend.
In 1990 I was a part of a National Championship flag football team that was loaded with talent. I really don't even remember how I got to be on this team but Coach John Lewis gave me a spot on the team as a defensive rusher and I took it! Fun times, fun times.
Fast forward to a few years ago with a body that wouldn't allow me to play softball much less try to run, I bowled some to satisfy my competitive cravings. The beatings my wore out body took from playing sports most of my life were taking it's toll. Everything seemed to hurt so much that I wasn't able to compete like I felt I could. That's where cornhole came into play!
In late 2014 I went to a friend's birthday party where they had some boards set up. I didn't know much about the game but I liked it. A few weeks later I built some boards and started playing some. I found a guy in the Longview area named John Towery, who allowed me to play in his weekly random draw events. After a couple of weeks he asked me if I would want to play in a big event in Dallas called the Ryder Cup. Not sure what I was getting into, I eagerly said yes! Not ever having played in any type of event like this I really didn't know what to expect. Once I was there, I realized very quick that I was outmatched...by a long shot.
That was in January and I knew I wanted to play in more of those type of events against those type of players. I also knew that I wasn't good enough at that point to compete. Mission accepted. I practiced as much as I could and played locally when I could and felt as if I was somewhat ready to give it a try against the best that Texas had to offer. Being a new player I didn't really get to play against the best and that was a good thing at that point! I did however play in the Social Division winning a State Title in Doubles and it was on baby! Now I wanted to get even better and play more which I did. Starting that next season as a "newby" I played in the Open Division at my first Signature event in Mesquite. I won a game or two until being matched up with a guy I knew was really good. I really didn't even know him or why I thought he was good other than he was wearing one of those jerseys and when I watched him throw, his bags kept going in the hole! I lost that game to Jason Andrews by 21-12 or something like that but I can remember being very nervous. The next event I attended was the Houston Signature where I felt deja vu. I won a game or two then played Adam Utz who beat me but again, I was super nervous. I came home that weekend and told my wife, Betty that I had to try to do something to get over my nerves. I figured I had to play more and against the better players. I joined the Forney League and each week I went up against guys like Stuart Foster, Daniel Vinson, Jason Andrews and Joe Arrington. I got crushed… a lot...but I was getting better at tuning out my nerves. I still couldn't beat those guys but it wasn't because I was nervous, I just wasn't good enough. I had more work to do!
Fast forward to now as the State Tournament is upon us and I still can't beat most of those guys but now I can score a few here and there!
This State Tournament is loaded...I mean loaded with talent. The field is as deep with good players as I've ever seen. Let me see...Josh Groce, Eddie Grinderslev, Stuart Foster, Daniel Vinson, Todd Bridgeman, A J Sims, Brandon Gregor, Eric Weathers, Christina Esopinosa, Jason Andrews, J C Nekuza, Adam Utz, Chad Jacobson, Justin Fowler, Joe Arrington...whew. Then we have guys like Earnest Herrera, Greg Kilmer, Mark Rubio, Mark Bitner, Nik Gemmiti, Kenneth Wright, Justin Gore, Justin Bennett, Justin Winschel, Nick Knabe, Jeremy O'Connell, Steve Stowe, Dallas Berthuime, Buddy Gotee...I mean Beaird, Frank Stockton, J D Thompson...the stinking list goes on and on with people that are really good!
That's not including the Senior's with guys like Tom Allen, Steve Wendling and Ken Wright. The Women's field will be super competitive as well with Espinosa, Betty Seymour, Jennifer Young, Trista Zonker, Veronica Vinson, Allison Appleton, Taylor De Leon, Amy Sledge, Ashley Conway...easy Rogge...Brittney Arrington, Amber Groce, Tracey Chamberlain and Caroline Johnston. This will be fun to watch!
All the years of playing sports has allowed me to compete but it has also introduced me to many wonderful people, some who have become life long friends that I consider family. I look forward to every event as I get to see my TCL family!
If you like competition, and I do, then you will love this year's State Championship in Abeline. It's going to be a great time and like many of us, we are on a mission to grab the title and hoist the hardware proclaiming ourselves as State Champions!!
Good luck everyone and be safe in your travels.