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Cornhole captivation: Russellville family plays competitively across the nation

FRANKLIN LIVING SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2022—

For the past two and half years, playing cornhole has been a favorite pastime of Amber Fretwell and her husband, Shane. It’s gone from a casual, occasional family game to something much bigger.

Once upon a time, the Fretwells had played cornhole in the backyard but had never been to a tournament. They got started in the world of competitive cornhole when they decided to attend a benefit tournament in Russellville, which eventually led to them being sponsored by Cornhole Solutions. Shane was the first to give it a go, with Amber watching.

“We had some friends who started having tournaments,” explained Amber, “and we started going and playing with them. Once we started playing in the tournaments and meeting new people, we decided to start playing more often.”

They play with the North Alabama Baggers – Northwest Alabama Cornhole on Facebook – as well as at The Fizz on Tuesdays in Muscle Shoals and at the Blue Springs Volunteer Fire Department on Thursdays. While they enjoy a friendly game, spending time with friends new and old, the pair describe themselves as competitive – they always want a win.

In addition to the accolades of winning, the prize money can be a nice bonus. “Our first season to go and play at big tournaments was in 2020,” explained Amber. She said she thinks her first tournament was at the Singing River Brewery in Florence. “That’s where we used to host our tournaments for the North Alabama Baggers.” Her first big tournament was in Tupelo, Miss., an American Cornhole Organization major. They have also been to Majors in Knoxville, Tenn.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Mesquite, Nev.; and Augusta, Ga.

“I won in the women’s division in my first tournament,” Amber said. “I was surprised to see how well I played in it.” As to how many cornhole tournaments she’s been in, it’s now “too many to count.”

While the couple plays often not far from where they live, they also do a fair bit of traveling for some of the tournaments, such as for the majors, some regional tournaments and ACO world’s – their most recent big tournament, which was in Branson, Missouri. They took their children, Paisley, 2, and Brodie, 6, with them. Competitors from 25 states took part.

The Fretwells placed first in the doubles division during the ACO regional tournament in Russellville at the Chucky Mullins Center, Feb. 19 of this year. They also placed first in the co-ed division, and Shane placed first in the singles division. Amber placed second in the singles division.

For the season in singles, Shane came in at 61, and Amber at 63. They ranked 47 in doubles and 2 in co-ed. For women’s singles, Amber tied for first before the tiebreaker matchup. In the world’s competition in Branson, Mo., Shane finished 17 in singles, and Amber finished 68, out of 392 players. In co-ed, they came in 17 out of 87 teams. In women’s doubles, Amber came in first, partnered with Megan Puckett from Decatur.

“I love playing cornhole,” said Amber, “getting to spend time with my husband and meeting new people. I love the challenge of it, too, like trying to make difficult shots and seeing how far I can go with it. I’ve always been competitive. Growing up, I played basketball and softball.”

She said it’s a good game for a broad range of ages. “We’ve met people from all over the world, and they’re some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They are like family to us now.”

Shane shared similar sentiments. “We like being social. I love the people and spending time with family and friends. That’s why I keep playing.”

“Our kids go to the tournaments, and everybody just loves our kids,” Amber added. “They always have a good time going.” Son Brodie has played in the juniors division at Majors and Worlds. “He had a blast,” Amber said. “He was so excited when we told him that he was getting to play in the juniors division, and he scored some points. He did very well for his age.”

In terms of the official season for competitive play, the next one starts in September. The Fretwells have been getting in plenty of practice in the meantime, honing their skills and having fun along the way.

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