Backyard Fun for the Whole Family

by Sienna Beard and Anna Gaynor

With summer upon us, it is prime time for entertaining outdoors with family and friends. So put down the Wii and try your hand at some of these classic lawn games.

Bags
Also known as bean bags, cornhole, corn toss, soft shoes and hillbilly horseshoes—or by its commercial name, Baggo—the game of bags has rapidly gained popularity over the last decade. It’s fun with as few as two players, but it’s even better with teams, and its portability makes it perfect for picnics and related outings.
This addictive game is about as simple as it gets—as the best ones often are. Two slanted platforms with holes near the top center are positioned about 30 feet apart. Each player aims and tosses a bag filled with corn or beans toward the other team’s board, trying to land the bag in the hole or on the board. Three points are awarded for landing in the hole; a bag that stays on the board is worth one point. The first team to 21 wins the game.

The origins of the game are murky, with varying accounts of when and where it began. Some say that it has been around since the 14th century, when a Bavarian cabinet maker named Matthias Kuepermann encountered a group of boys tossing rocks back and forth, trying to hit a hole in the ground. Believing these flying rocks to be dangerous, he swapped them for bags of corn and constructed a wooden box with a six-inch hole to be used as the goal. According to cornholeportal.com, the interest in Kuepermann’s creation was such that it “resulted in the deforesting of much of middle Europe…and caused great concern among woodworkers who were not ‘cornhole friendly.’


This past June marked the second annual River City Bags Classic on the Peoria Riverfront to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Along with his brother and a friend, Andy Babcock organized the bags tournament to raise money for his St. Jude Chicago to Peoria run. After its success, he put together a committee last year to produce the tournament as a standalone event.

“I knew that this game was becoming more and more popular,” explained Babcock, “and it was a new way to raise money for this worthy cause. Around Peoria, there are many different fundraisers for the kids of St. Jude, but nothing like this.”

For more information, visit rivercitybagsclassic.com.

“Thus, it came to pass that many noble merchants in wood products sought recourse from their lords,” continues the legend, “and thereby resulted the Corn Laws of Britain, which were first enacted in the 15th Century. Enforcing exorbitant tariffs on the import of corn and other grains, these laws caused a great uproar in the cornhole game trade; production of the bags of corn for tournament play became cost-prohibitive.”

And so, the game fell into oblivion, until it surfaced again more than a century ago when German emigrants brought it to America. Many Cincinnatians claim the city as its birthplace, as the game has blossomed there in recent years. Some believe it was rediscovered by pioneers in the foothills of Kentucky. Others argue that it originated with a Midwestern farmer named Jebediah Magillicutty, while still others attribute its creation to Native American tribes.

Croquet
Like bags, croquet is a great lawn game that can be played with as few as two and up to six people. Players use mallets to hit a wooden or plastic ball through a series of wickets and advance through the course. By hitting another player’s ball or passing through a hoop, you get an extra hit as well. There are numerous variations of the game, with slightly different rules, scoring systems and course layouts.

The origins of croquet are slightly clearer than bags. Some say the game developed from the French game of Pall Mall and was introduced to England during the reign of Charles II in the 17th century. The second, more commonly accepted theory has croquet arriving in England from Ireland in the early 1850s. Either way, the game “took England by storm in the 1860s,” according to Wikipedia, and quickly spread to the rest of the English-speaking world.

Croquet clubs were formed in the U.S. as early as 1865, and 17 years later, a convention of 25 clubs formed the National American Croquet Association. But even as the game took root in America, in England it was eclipsed by tennis, and many of its clubs converted their lawns into tennis courts. Croquet was introduced as an Olympic sport at the 1900 games in Paris, but was dropped four years later after just two Olympic appearances.

The game made its way to central Illinois sometime prior to the 1880s, a decade in which “croquet, neighborhood picnics and plays were the rage,” as the Peoria Journal Star described in 2002. In 1898, croquet grounds measuring 75 x 160 feet opened at the newly-created Trewyn Park, then known as South Park. An article on westpeoriaresidents.org (“The History of Heading Avenue” by Skip Cravens) refers to croquet games that would take place near the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception in the 1920s and ‘30s.

Numerous revivals took place over the first half of the 20th century, and by the mid-1950s and early 1960s, croquet had become extremely popular in the United States. By then, most of the games were played on suburban lawns, using sets produced by at least six different American manufacturers.

Bocce
Bocce derives its name from bottia, the Latin word for “ball.” The first known documentation of bocce occurs in graphic representations by the ancient Egyptians, as early as 5200 B.C. From Egypt, the game spread to Greece and then to the Romans, who introduced it throughout the empire. Although these early games look quite different from today’s bocce, the object of coming as close as possible to a fixed target remained consistent.

Each individual or team gets four balls. The smallest ball, called the pallina, is thrown toward the opposite side of the playing surface, and players take turns throwing their balls toward the pallina. Once all eight balls have been thrown, the winning team gets a point for each ball that is closer to the pallina than the other team’s nearest ball. A regulation bocce court is 76 feet long and 10 feet wide, but most people just play for fun in their yard or at a park.

The game flourished throughout Europe for centuries, the sport of nobles and peasants alike. Emperor Augustus, Galileo, Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake were all avowed fans. According to one legend, Admiral Drake would not set out to defend his country against the Spanish Armada until after he had finished his game of bocce.

It came to America in the 1700s and was made popular by Italian immigrants around the beginning of the 20th century. In the late 1980s, a wave of popularity took hold in California, and today, more than 25 million Americans play the game.

Horseshoes
In this game, players take turns tossing horseshoes around a stake or pole in the ground. Generally associated with more rural players—it is also known as barnyard golf—its relative ease makes it suitable for all ages. The rules are simple for a casual game of horseshoes. When a thrown shoe circles the stake, it is referred to as a ringer, worth one point. The game ends when a player or team reaches 21 points. A different set of scoring rules applies for “sanctioned tournaments” and those affiliated with the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association of America.

Horseshoes has its roots in ancient Greece. It is said that it started when Grecian soldiers tried to imitate a popular game played by their officers. It remained a favorite for soldiers around the world, and the first world tournament was held in 1899 in Kansas. Several years later, official rules were created for the sport, prescribing the height of the stake, weight of the shoes and distance the shoes should be tossed.

The Peoria Horseshoe Club pitches horseshoes in lower Bradley Park, across from the softball fields, on most Thursdays in the summer. Anyone is welcome to pitch with the club. The group also organizes the Peoria Horseshoe Club Open in Bradley Park each June. The World Horseshoe Tournament, sponsored by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, takes place in Springfield from July 27th to August 8th. For less stiff competition, check out the Tailgate Challenge, sponsored by the Peoria Park District, in Bradley Park on August 29th.

Other Lawn Games
  • KUBB. A combination of bowling and horseshoes. The object is to knock over wooden blocks by throwing wooden sticks at them.
  • LAWN DARTS. Similar to both horseshoes and darts. The 12-inch-long darts are tossed underhand toward a horizontal ground target, typically a plastic ring. Landing anywhere within the ring scores a point.
  • LADDER GOLF. Each player has three golf ball bolas (two golf balls attached by a nylon rope.) The object is to wrap your bolas around the three steps of the ladder. 
  • PÉTANQUE. One of Europe’s most popular outdoor games, related to horseshoes and bocce. The aim is to toss or roll a number of hollow steel balls, known as boules, as close as possible to a small wooden target ball called a cochonnet. 
  • SHOLF. A hybrid of table shuffleboard and golf, the object is to putt your golf balls further into the scoring zone than your opponent. Point values increase as you get closer to the edge of the playing green. a&s

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