Adam Hissner is one of a handful of local nationally ranked players headed to Cleveland.

Update: The ACL Championship in Cleveland has been canceled. "We have been regretfully informed by Cuyahoga County and the Cuyahoga County Convention Facilities Development Corporation that they will not be permitting the ACL to move forward with this weekend's event due to public health and safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 virus," organizers wrote Friday. (updated 9:10 a.m. Friday, March 13).


This isn’t your backyard game.


Unless plans change due to coronavirus, Cleveland is to host the American Cornhole League National Championships #2 this weekend. The event will draw the top 1,062 players in the country to compete for a chance at a national title and thousands of dollars.


"I never would have thought that in eight, nine years I’d be traveling the country playing cornhole," Adam Hissner, 42, of New Philadelphia, said Wednesday before a casual tournament at Tugboats Pub in Plain Township.


Hissner is one of a handful of local nationally ranked players headed to Cleveland.


Like most players, he started playing casually at "blind draw" events at local bars. Then a friend invited him to a big tournament in Las Vegas.


Hissner paid $200 to play and came home with about $8,000.


"And that’s what got me hooked," he said. "Once I seen the cash, I was like ’I’m in."


Carroll County standout


Trey Burchfield of Carrollton has a similar story.


The 17-year-old high school student tagged along with his father and grandfather to local tournaments, where he’d practice his own game on the side.


"I noticed I got pretty good," Burchfield said.


Burchfield already knew the players in the local scene, so he started competing against them. Small competitive tournaments led to bigger ones. Now, he’s ranked second in the state and balances school with travel to tournaments across the county.


Hissner is ranked fifth in the state. Chad Braun, a Massillon native now living in Cleveland and also competing this weekend, is ranked 15th in the state.


"I’m very competitive. And I’m 46 now, I’m running out of things to get good at and competitive at," he said.


"Anybody can play. Anybody can win," he added, referencing the American Cornhole League slogan.


The basics are the same, but playing at a professional level and at a tailgate have big differences.


Starting with the equipment. Players have a variety of cornhole bags to choose from -- some have both sticky and slick sides, some are designed to go fast or compensate for the environment -- and there’s a lot of strategy involved in picking the right ones for a match, Braun said.


Gameplay also is strategic. Professional players know how to play defensive games that are about more than sinking a bag into the hole, he said.


Growing in popularity


The Cleveland tournament is one of five national championships hosted by the ACL. The events are a chance for players to earn rankings and money, as well as to catch the eye of potential sponsors.


Select competitions, including final rounds, are broadcast on ESPN. A spot on the network can lead to bigger sponsorship deals, and sponsors can cover the cost of traveling.


As the sport continues to grow, sponsors are growing right along with it, Hissner said.


"Eventually, a lot of us are going to get the big sponsor where we can quit our normal jobs and just travel around and play," he said.


Cornhole is more than a chance to make money. The crowd and community are big highlights.


"If you just started, you could go out to a tournament and you’re in the family right now," Hissner said.


"Everybody’s so welcoming. It doesn’t matter if you’re a social player or if you’re the pro player," he added. "It’s just amazing how friendly everybody is."


"It’s the people. And the competitiveness," Burchfield agreed.


That competition is growing. Folks who are used to winning against their friends at a tailgate are often surprised when they see the level of play at even local bar tournaments, Hissner said.


"Everybody’s putting in the time and practice to get better to hopefully get to that big stage," he said.


"It’s no walk in the park. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing… you still better play good. Because if not, you’re gonna get beat."


This weekend’s tournament is closed to spectators. Select matches, including finals, can be viewed 8-11 p.m. Friday on ESPN3 and 8-10 p.m. Saturday on ESPN and ESPN2.


Reach Jessica at 330-580-8322 or jessica.holbrook@cantonrep.com


On Twitter: @jholbrookREP.