There I was, minding my own business a few months ago, watching some sporting event at Applebee’s Restaurant in Ada.

The local restaurant has a number of big-screen televisions sprinkled all around the bar area. It was a TV that I hadn’t been interested in that caught my eye. ESPN was airing the American Cornhole Organization World Championships.

I had vaguely remembered at least watching cornhole played in a backyard somewhere at some point, but never had really given it a try. That night, however, I started to completely ignore whatever major sporting event had brought me to Applebee’s in the first place and started concentrating on the intense game of doubles cornhole that happened to be airing.

Cornhole on ESPN? Really? Apparently so.

At that point, I wanted to try it. It looked like a lot of fun.

A few days later, I heard of a cornhole tournament being held in Stonewall as a fundraiser for its ag students. I thought, “Why not?”

Coworker Richard R. Barron graciously accepted the offer to become my partner, and we preregistered as Team Ada News.

I didn’t want to go in cold, so I found out that East Central University assistant women’s basketball and longtime friend Jeff McGaha had a set of boards and bags I could borrow. So after he gave me some pointers one day at Wintersmith Park, I borrowed his equipment, and my cornhole career had officially started.

Richard and I had a practice round at his house a few days before the tournament, and away we went.

To make a long story short, we finished sixth or so out of 20-plus teams entered in the event. (We might have won another game or two, but it was really hot and I don’t think I could have thrown another bag).

A few weeks later, Richard and I entered another fundraiser tournament, this time in Mill Creek, America. There were again well over 20 teams.

I’ve since competed at tournaments at the Pontotoc County Fair, the Ada Elks Lodge, Rib Crib in Ada and most recently, a fundraising tournament in Ringling directed by former Ada resident Kim Paul. Her daughter, Kami (Bowker) Rodebush, entered the tournament with her brother Scotty and I borrowed Kami’s husband, Matt Rodebush, as a partner.

Matt and I finished third in the tournament (22 teams), but the highlight for him was defeating Kami and Scotty in the second round. But I digress.

Cornhole is popular, and that really surprised me when I got started. It has really started booming right here in the Sooner State.

I think it’s ESPN’s fault, and Adam Acton, the director of the Oklahoma Cornhole Association, tends to agree.

“I do believe that cornhole has grown at a very rapid rate over the last two years. I believe that is a large part to what the ACL (American Cornhole League) is doing with their partnership with ESPN,” Acton told The Ada News.

“What they have done has helped everyone in the cornhole community in growing at a regional level, because people see it on ESPN and they start searching for cornhole in their community,” he continued. “So a big part of the skyrocket in popularity is due to that.”

It also helps that overweight sports editors, young kids and senior citizens can all play the game.

“Cornhole is a game that anyone can play. Any age or any gender, it doesn’t matter if you are athletic or not,” Acton said. “It is a sport that anyone can pick up and play, and it’s easy to learn. It’s easy to enjoy and have fun doing with family and friends.”

Acton started the Oklahoma Cornhole Association back in 2014. He ran tournaments in the Oklahoma City area and usually had a dozen or so players show up.

It’s a whole different bag-game now.

“I ran my state championship in June, and I had 70 people show up. Every tournament I ran went from an average of 12-16 people to average 40-50 people a tournament. We really exploded when cornhole hit ESPN,” Acton said.

While gobs of folks play in their backyard on a semi-regular basis, cornhole officially hit the Ada area with the creation of the Southern Oklahoma Cornhole Association (SOCA). That group, organized by Russ Allen and Mike McKee, held its first social tournament Oct. 2 at Rib Crib in Ada. They had enough folks show up and play for 11 teams (it was a blind draw format where teammates were randomly selected).

“Our first social tournament was a success. We had a great time and appreciate everyone who came out,” Allen said.

Winners of the first SOCA tournament were Gregory Kilmer and Kenney Riddle, while Jody Browning and Colt Riddle finished second.

The group is currently looking for a facility to host indoor tournaments for when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. Check out the Southern Oklahoma Cornhole Association Facebook page for the latest tournaments and updates. According to Allen, the next SOCA tournament is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Oct. 16 back at Rib Crib. Registration will begin at 5:30 p.m.

I quickly came to the realization that cornhole is not as easy as it looks. But I’m not giving up, and neither should you.

“Cornhole is a great game that is family friendly, and it is a great way to build bonds with great people,” Acton said. “Everyone who plays had to start somewhere. So don’t get discouraged, and keep playing. I know that when asked, all of my elite players have no problem with giving tips and pointers or advice to anyone who asks. We all want the same thing, and that is to grow cornhole in Oklahoma.”

And hopefully, it will take off right here in Ada, Oklahoma.

Jeff Cali has been covering sports in the Ada area since the mid-90s. He graduated from Byng High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University.