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Dragon Boat Festival finds camaraderie, competition at cornhole tournament

For some, cornhole is a sport, an affair to be taken seriously and practiced diligently. To others, it’s a leisure activity, one best enjoyed with a beverage – or two, or three – in hand.

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Teams compete in the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival’s 11th Annual Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI – For some, cornhole is a sport, an affair to be taken seriously and practiced diligently. Professional players have their matchups televised on ESPN and sponsors adorning their garments.

To others, it’s a leisure activity, one best enjoyed with a beverage – or two, or three – in hand. But many participants meet somewhere in the middle, and that’s where those competing in the 11th annual cornhole tournament at the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival found themselves on Thursday at Paul Bunyan Park.

“I am on (beer) six,” said Jeremy Olson, one half of the pair that claimed the championship in the 64-team event.

“I would say probably (beer) 10,” said Austin Lucas, his partner in victory.

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Ken Goggleye, left, tosses a bag while playing against Mason Jones during the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival’s 11th Annual Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

The tournament raised over $2,000 for the American Cancer Society’s Beltrami County Relay for Life. Contests bought into the competition with a $30 entry fee per team.

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Despite their willingness to have a good time, the two title winners were dominant in their final matchup of the night. They established a 10-0 lead out of the gates, eventually winning the contest 27-11. In cornhole, the victors only need 21 points to clinch a match, but an eight-point advantage in Lucas and Olson’s final round put them well over the top.

What’s their secret to success? Mixing the festive atmosphere of the event with the sweet elixir of victory.

“It’s nice to win, but you’ve got to have fun too,” Lucas said. “This is a fun tournament.”

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Teams compete in the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival’s 11th Annual Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“Winning is not easy,” Olson added. “A single-elimination tournament is hard. So you do your best, but it's fun to win.”

Olson took the top spot in the tournament for a third time, while Lucas earned his first title. The Bemidjian pair defeated Derek Cornelius and Geoff Lapp in the finals, but that wasn’t the first time those four had faced off. All four players participate in cornhole leagues at The Garden Grill & Pub in Nymore.

But there can only be two champions, and Lucas and Olson made sure they were the last throwers standing on Thursday.

“It's a great time,” Olson said. “I meet a lot of good people. It's a fun time. There's good teams, there's not very good teams, but it's just a fun event.”

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Jackie Defoe tosses a bag during the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival’s 11th Annual Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Olson may have been six beers deep, but he was under control when it mattered most, thanks to a past experience that taught him a valuable lesson.

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“A few years ago, I had too many and I didn't win,” Olson said. “And that was the reason I didn’t win. It was more than 10, and (I) was in the championship. It was terrible, I did so bad.”

“So the range is between six and 10,” Lucas concluded.

For the love of the game

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LaWanna Johnson, center, participates in the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival’s 11th Annual Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Not all of the 128 participants were strictly there to contend for the championship, of course. Many players came out simply for the fun of the event.

That included 85-year-old LaWanna Johnson, who has competed in the cornhole tournament for four or five years now. But this year, she achieved something special.

“I did get one in,” Johnson said. “I hardly ever even hit the board, but I actually got one in. I hit the ceiling before when I was here. So this was pretty good for me to get some on the board even. (It was) really different.”

Ordinarily, she’d compete with her brother, who will turn 92 in October. He’s experiencing some health issues and wasn’t able to make the trip out from California, so Johnson held down the fort.

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Garret Atteberry tosses a bag during the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival’s 11th Annual Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“He's fantastic,” Johnson said. “He hated missing it, but next year we’ll be a team again.”

But Johnson wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of her cornhole endeavor, and she plans to be right back at the tournament next summer.

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“Everybody's so nice,” Johnson said. “You have such a good time. And everything is perfect. I’ll come back here forever. They are just wonderful.”

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Carmela Weaver tosses a bag during the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival’s 11th Annual Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Remaining Dragon Boat Festival events

    Friday, Aug. 5

    • Noon to 9 p.m. – Food court open 
    • Noon to 7 p.m. – Merchandise tent open 
    • 3 to 5 p.m. – Practice sessions, the public is invited to watch
    • 4 p.m. to midnight – Dragon’s Den open 
    • 6 to 6:30 p.m. – Parade of Teams and opening ceremonies 
    • 6:30 to 7 p.m. – Mandatory Sprint Cup Team managers meeting 
    • 7 to 8:30 p.m. – 9th Annual Dondelinger GM Sprint Cup Races
    • 8 to 10 p.m. – Dragon’s Den Entertainment: Fun Pianos - Dueling Piano Show 

    Saturday, Aug. 6

    • 8 to 9 a.m – 8th annual 5k run/walk
    • 8:45 a.m. – Mandatory all team manager's meeting
    • 8 to 10 a.m. – Race day breakfast
    • 8 a.m. to Midnight – Dragon’s Den Open 
    • 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. – Merchandise tent open
    • 9 to 9:30 a.m. – 1/2k run/walk
    • 9 a.m. to midnight – Dragon’s Den open 
    • 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. – Round 1 heats: Dragon Boat races
    • 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. – Food court open 
    • 1:30 to 4:15 p.m. – Round 2 heats: Dragon Boat races
    • 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. – Finals: Dragon Boat races
    • 5:30 to 6 p.m. – Dragon Boat Festival awards and closing Ceremonies
    • 6 to 11 p.m. – Dragon’s Den Entertainment: Corey Medina and Brothers

    All race times are tentative and subject to race-day circumstances. For more information, visit bemidjidragonboat.com.

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    Teams compete in the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival’s 11th Annual Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waterfront.
    Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

    Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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