Who's on First

Corn to be wild: Bean bag toss tournament goes national

By Chris Jay 08/21/2014


In the classic sports movie Field of Dreams, when Kevin Costner received the ghostly message “If you build it, they will come,” it leads to his character turning his corn field into a baseball field.

When Ventura restaurant owner John Karayan received a similar message, it wasn’t quite as supernatural, nor did it instruct him to tear down his restaurant, but it certainly has put the man on a mission to bring the game of cornhole to the people.

Locals are familiar with Spencer Makenzie’s Block Party, the annual end-of-summer event that, for the past four years, has packed the street outside his restaurant for two days of live music and the fish tacos and homemade hot sauces that the restaurant is known for.

What was initially a free event held as a thank-you for customers has now grown to an eagerly anticipated end of summer celebration that’s had thousands attend and has seen famous faces in the music world like guitar legend Dick Dale and Public Enemy’s iconic frontman Chuck D perform.

The event had international attention as well when it appeared prominently on an episode of HBO’s 24/7 with local boxer Victor Ortiz making an appearance at the Block Party just prior to his mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather.

But while the locals at the Block Party were busy rocking out and grubbing out, one small aspect of the event began to grow steadily, to the point that now it’s the event’s main focus: cornhole.

OK. Let’s get it right out in the open. While the name, for some, may be best known as an entirely different act that will not be described in a family paper, cornhole is actually just a bean-bag toss game in which teams of two throw bean bags at a raised wooden platform with a hole near the top. A bag in the hole scores three points, while one on the platform scores one point. Play continues until a team or player reaches the score of 21.

It’s simple (anyone can play), surprisingly addictive and goes great with a few beers. Over the past few years, it’s exploded nationally and is now a mainstay at tailgate parties before sporting events and concerts.

As for Spencer Makenzie’s, when owner John Karayan noticed how popular the game was at the event’s second year, he decided to have a small tournament the following year. The popularity of that led to a massive expansion of the tournament last year that saw out-of-town players visit, and competition crossed over to the second day of the event.

Always one to think big, Karayan has decided to take the event to a whole new level. Now technically called The Throwdown, the competition is boasting a first-place prize of $3,000, making it the largest cornhole tournament on the West Coast.

Over 100 teams, with colorful names like Children of the Corn, Corntown Ladies, The Cornholios, have registered from as far away as North Carolina, Oregon, Arizona, Illinois and Nevada, officially making The Throwdown a bonafide national event.

While this weekend’s tournament is set to be the biggest yet, Karayan is already envisioning next year’s event, with eyes on turning The Throwdown into the largest cornhole tournament in the country if not the world. Big sponsors are on board, as well as early conversations about broadcasting the event on national television.

So be warned, it may not be long before you could be turning on ESPN 2 to find a sport coat-clad announcer welcoming you to Ventura, California, the Cornhole Capital of the World.

Spencer Makenzie’s Block Party, featuring The Throwdown, takes place this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 23and 24, at Spencer Makenzie’s, 806 E. Thompson Blvd., Ventura. For more information or to register to compete, visit www.spencermakenzies.com.


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