In East Otis, the night comes alive with the sounds of cornhole

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EAST OTIS — Thump, thump, thump.

Kernel-filled bags were landing en masse atop wooden Knox Trail Inn boards on a recent Wednesday night. With six pairs alternating tosses across the room and five more awaiting their turns, this edition of the East Otis restaurant's weekly cornhole tournament featured plenty of marksmen scoring points for their teams through a variety of different pitching styles. Most slipped a hand beneath the blue or maroon bags. Some practiced long follow-throughs, their throwing arms arcing towards the curved ceiling after each attempt. And at least one player daringly dug his fingers into the square sack, palm facing downward.

"Everybody has their own way of throwing," Otis' Donny Ray Moretz said.

Many of these players have had ample opportunity to hone their form at the Knox Trail Inn. Weekly cornhole tournaments began in fall 2017 after a group of five locals bought and renovated the restaurant earlier that year. Building on the success of summer horseshoe nights, the group sought to attract more diners during the colder months by adding cornhole, card games and live music.

"They always have stuff going on," said Matt Gamelli, who organizes the cornhole nights.

The Otis native appreciates the owners' efforts to bring nightlife back to an area that isn't heavily trafficked once second-home owners retreat to their primary residences.

"We didn't have a single place to go," Gamelli said.

Scheduled to run through mid-April this year, cornhole typically draws between 16 and 24 players, according to Gamelli. Each week is a new tournament. Participants pay $5 to play, with the winning pair splitting the pot; team pairings are decided by drawing names from a hat. All are invited to participate regardless of skill level, though Gamelli notes that there are some great shooters among the regulars, who primarily hail from Otis and Becket as well as some neighboring towns.

"He's the ace," Gamelli said, looking at Moretz.

A lefty, the Otis resident has an otherwise conventional delivery, stepping forward with his opposite leg as he hoists. He said that the key to cornhole success is consistency in form.

"It's like bowling," he said, noting that twisting your arm can lead to trouble.

In the team version of the game, pairs stand on opposite ends of a room or outdoor space next to inclined boards with circular holes. Opposing shooters take turns throwing three bags at the same board. If a bag lands in the hole, it's a three-point "cornhole." If the bag merely comes to rest on the board, it's a one-point "woody." Each game is played to 21 with cancellation scoring, so the net difference between opposing shooters' scores determines how many points have been won on a given turn. In the Knox Trail Inn tournament, teams play best-out-of-three-game matches to ultimately determine the week's champion. Moretz has taken that crown on multiple occasions, and on this night, he and Bonnie White of Otis emerged victorious. But the tournaments aren't cutthroat.

"I keep the pot growin'. That's why I'm here," Otis resident Carol Kauffman said.

Kauffman was being modest, though; she had just sunk a cornhole.

"Nice, Carol!" a spectator cheered.

Encouragement was just as much a part of the evening as keeping score. Each week, friendships are both made and reinforced at the gatherings. Local pals invited Suzanne Meldonian and her husband, Jim, of West Springfield to their first cornhole night. Now, they come every week. Suzanne has enjoyed playing indoors as the weather gets colder.

"We used to play in the yard," she said.

An entrance divides the restaurant into a quiet dining area and a pub space that includes a winding bar, tables, a stage, and a massive TV projection that serves as the backdrop for cornhole. Co-owner Pete Sullivan said that it may be the largest TV in the county.

"That's what we claim, anyway," Sullivan said.

Three games can be played at once in a space that has plenty of elbow room and, more importantly, ample air space to fling bags.

"This place really lends itself to cornhole," Gamelli said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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