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Fire station plays host to 'The Coop' cornhole crew in Wagener

WAGENER — Prime parking spaces are now in high demand at Wagener's fire station at least a couple of times each month, with the station playing host to dozens of visitors for cornhole play on Friday evenings.

Local residents Avery Snipes, Aaron Snipes and T.C. Rushton picked up the habit – and quite a few bean bags – over the past 18 months, establishing South Carolina Cornhole at the Coop, and now have plenty of company from maybe 7 p.m. to almost midnight, depending on the speed of play. 

"Everybody loves it, and they like coming to the fire station," said Wagener fireman Eric Middleton, who helps move fire trucks out of the bay for a few hours, to create plenty of room for bags to fly, players to make their rounds, spectators to set up a chair and dogs to take a nap.

"The Coop," as the group is known, gets its name from one of the first play sites: a local chicken coop, with a sturdy roof overhead and a smooth, paved surface for the players. Gatherings are now held every other Friday evening, with the fire station as the focal point. 

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"We formed a group in June of 2020," Avery said. "Cornhole kind of took off, on TV ... during COVID. I mean, ESPN didn't have any games or anything. Baseball wasn't playing. Football, basketball, none of that was happening."

He added, "We got interested in watching it, and we had some boards at the house," and a backyard tournament took place at Rushton's house, in Wagener, with 16 family and friends taking place. 

"Now it's blossomed, and we're averaging about 40 people from all over," he said, noting that some players are local and the rest of the corps is from not only the Aiken County but also Columbia, Lexington, Rock Hill, Greenville, Orangeburg, Bamberg, Charleston, Summerville and Lancaster, from teenagers to retirement age. 

Growth is part of the package, with support coming from such sponsors as Sophisticuts, Tyler Brothers, Harry's, Piggly Wiggly, Blizzard Funeral Home and attorney Jackie Busbee. 

"It's just a big old family," said Lexington resident Ty Tyler, who plays in tournaments around the state on a regular basis. He described himself as "a competitor by nature," having played soccer through college.

Tyler noted that one of South Carolina's top players making the circuit is in his upper 70s, and one of the youngest is a 10-year-old from Greer, with everybody "talking bags" in a mixture of competition and encouragement. 

A player, he said, may be "totally on" one night, turning in a blue-ribbon performance, "and then not even recognize a cornhole bag the next night." The experience of coming up short, he said, "hurts just enough to make you come next week and play it again."  

Admission at the Wagener events is free for spectators, and bags can be supplied for anyone who wants to sample the action and cares to pay $15 to join the action ($10 for the tournament and $5 for the facilities). Top performers can take home cash prizes.

Some players bring their own groceries, and hot food is also an option, with help from Heavenly Seoul and Grill, Wagener's newest restaurant. A snack bar is part of the setup as well. 

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For the group's next action, the Facebook page offers schedule updates.


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