23-year-old new mom attempts to become 1st woman to win gender-neutral title in ACL cornhole event

The recreational game of cornhole wouldn’t seem to have any characteristics that would give men an inherent advantage. Yet no woman ever has won a championship in the nine-year-old American Cornhole League’s gender-neutral pro singles division.

Cheyenne Bubenheim wants to change that. The 23-year-old Floridian and new mother is one of four semifinalists competing Saturday in an ACL pro event open to men and women in the Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, Wisconsin.

“This is the ultimate goal for me,” Bubenheim said. “It would mean absolutely everything to me.”

Bubenheim has accomplished plenty since turning pro five years ago in a pastime known best as a popular recreational outlet at tailgates and parties. The game calls for players to toss underhand four 6-by-6-inch bags toward a board 27 feet away that includes a 6-inch hole. Players take turns tossing and aim to get each of their bags through the hole for points.

The game has exploded in popularity since the turn of the century, with recreational leagues cropping up across North America. With that interest, national groups have surfaced, such as the American Cornhole Organization and the ACL, which launched in 2015. Some events are on ESPN and sponsors back both group and professional players like Bubenheim. There is a World Cup set for Germany in September.

McKenna Ballew of Bay City, Michigan, won an ACO pro tour event featuring both men and women in January in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Bubenheim was about 15 when she started playing cornhole with family members and friends in Plant City, Florida. She kept on improving and turned pro in 2019. She played well enough to put her residential cleaning business on the back burner to make cornhole her full-time gig.

Bubenheim said she earned $90,000 in prize money in 2022, a sum that doesn’t include what she made in sponsorships. She earned $77,000 last year, playing while expecting her son, Brantley, who is four months old and accompanies her to various tournaments.

Bubenheim, who now lives in DeLand, Florida, is a three-time women’s singles world champion and a three-time women’s doubles world champion. She is the top-ranked woman in the world and ranked 22nd among all ACL players regardless of gender.

“She’s been kind of revolutionary in the game because she was kind of first to do it, and there’s always something about being the first to get there,” said Trey Ryder, the ACL’s chief strategy officer.

Bubenheim is one of only two women ever to win a gender-neutral pro doubles event. Now she wants to become the first woman to win a gender-neutral singles championship. She reached this final round once before, back in 2021.

Cornhole is a game that doesn’t necessarily reward extraordinary size or athleticism. Nor is age much of a factor, considering the ACL has professionals ranging from 12 to 69 years old. Ryder noted that Bubenheim’s semifinal opponent Saturday is 13-year-old Ryan Traiteur of Waterloo, Iowa.

So why hasn’t a woman won any ACL pro competition yet?

“I would say to an extent it’s something of a numbers game,” Ryder said.

There are only 32 women playing at the professional level, he said, compared to about 200 men. This represents the highest percentage of women the ACL has ever had, but it is a discrepancy that helps explain why men are more likely to win open-division events.

Bubenheim also said men also tend to have a wider variety of shooting styles. She referred specifically to a “roll shot” or “flop shot,” in which a bag actually rolls over another bag that might have been intended to block the hole.

“When I first started, that shot wasn’t around,” Bubenheim said. “A lot of the women haven’t really developed that shot. For myself, I don’t try to learn that shot. I don’t feel like I necessarily need it. But I do feel like – not that the men have more of a skill-set than we do – but it’s just they are creating those shots and working on those a little bit more, I think.”

As more women start playing professionally, Bubenheim said she believes it is inevitable that someone breaks through in an ACL event.

“I definitely do think it’s a matter of time before a woman does win one of these pro tournaments,” Bubenheim said. “There’s definitely women like myself who have all the skills they need to do it. It’s just (a matter of) when it happens.”

She’s hoping that time comes Saturday.