Dragon Boat Festival finds camaraderie and competition at cornhole tournament – Bemidji Pioneer

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BEMIDJI – For some, cornhole is a sport, a matter to be taken seriously and practiced diligently. Professional players see their matches televised on ESPN and sponsors adorn their clothing.

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

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

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

Ken Goggleye, left, throws a sack while playing against Mason Jones during the 11th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Cornhole Tournament, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waters edge.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

The tournament raised more than $2,000 for the American Cancer Society’s Beltrami County Relay For Life. Contests purchased within the competition with an entry fee of $30 per team.

Despite their desire to have a good time, the two title winners dominated their last match of the evening. They established a 10-0 lead from the start, eventually winning the contest 27-11. In the cornhole, the winners only need 21 points to clinch a game, but an eight-point advantage in the final round from Lucas and Olson puts them well above that.

What is their secret to success? Combining the festive atmosphere of the event with the sweet elixir of victory.

“It’s good to win, but you also have to have fun,” said Lucas. “It’s a fun tournament.”

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The teams compete in the 11th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, August 4, 2022, at the water’s edge.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“Winning isn’t easy,” Olson added. “A knockout tournament is tough. So you do your best, but it’s fun to win.

Olson took first place in the tournament for the third time, while Lucas won his first title. The Bemidjian pair beat Derek Cornelius and Geoff Lapp in the final, but it wasn’t the first time these four had faced each other. All four players compete 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 pitchers standing Thursday.

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

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Jackie Defoe throws a bag during the 11th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Cornhole Tournament Thursday, August 4, 2022, at the waters edge.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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

“A few years ago I had too much and didn’t win,” Olson said. “And that’s why I didn’t win. It was more than 10, and (I) was in the championship. It was terrible, I hurt so much.

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

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LaWanna Johnson, center, competes in the 11th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Cornhole Tournament Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waters edge.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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

This included LaWanna Johnson, 85, who has been playing the cornhole tournament for four or five years now. But this year, she achieved something special.

“I got one,” Johnson said. “I almost never even touched the board, but I actually got one. I’ve touched the ceiling before when I was here. So it was pretty good for me to even have some on the board. (It was) really different.

Normally, she would rival her brother, who turns 92 in October. He has health issues and was unable to make the trip from California, so Johnson held down the fort.

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Garret Atteberry throws a sack during the 11th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Cornhole Tournament Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the waters edge.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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

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

“Everyone is so nice,” Johnson said. “You are having such a good time. And everything is perfect. I will stay here forever. They are simply wonderful.

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Carmela Weaver throws a bag during the 11th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Cornhole Tournament Thursday, August 4, 2022, at the waters edge.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Remaining Dragon Boat Festival Events

Friday August 5

  • 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. – Food court open
  • 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. – Merchandising tent open
  • 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. – Practice sessions, the public is invited to watch
  • 4 p.m. to midnight – Dragon’s Den open
  • 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. – Parade of teams and opening ceremonies
  • 6:30-7:00 p.m. – Mandatory Sprint Cup Team Leaders Meeting
  • 7:00-8:30 p.m. – 9th Annual Dondelinger GM Sprint Cup Race
  • 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. – Dragon’s Den Entertainment: Fun Pianos – Dueling Piano Show

Saturday August 6

  • 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. – 8th Annual 5K Run/Walk
  • 8:45 a.m. – Mandatory meeting of all team leaders
  • 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. – Breakfast on race day
  • 8 a.m. to midnight – Dragon’s Den Open
  • 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Merchant tent open
  • 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. – 1/2 km 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 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. – Round 2 rounds: Dragon Boat Races
  • 4:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. – Finals: Dragon Boat Races
  • 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. – Prize giving and closing ceremony of the Dragon Boat Festival
  • 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. – Dragon’s Den Entertainment: Corey Medina and Brothers

All race times are provisional and subject to race day circumstances. For more information, visit

www.bemidjidragonboat.com.

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Teams compete in the 11th Annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival Cornhole Tournament on Thursday, August 4, 2022, at the waters edge.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

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