New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | August 21, 2018

Kelly conquering cornhole circuit across the country

By Andre Jones | July 6, 2018 2:16 pm
From tossing a basketball in hoops to tossing beanbags, Trae Kelly has taken a pastime and transformed it into a career.Andre Jones photo (left), Photo courtesy of Trae Kelly (right).

From tossing a basketball in hoops to tossing beanbags, Trae Kelly has taken a pastime and transformed it into a career.

Andre Jones photo (left), Photo courtesy of Trae Kelly (right).

On the Fourth of July, most people are spending time with family and friends, enjoying cookouts and watching firework shows at night time. For Charles City native Thomas ‘Trae’ Kelly, he was spending Independence day appearing on ESPN2 from Coney Island in New York and competing in a televised cornhole tournament.

Cornhole is a game where players take turns tossing small beanbags in an attempt to put them in a hole. Kelly is taking that recreational pastime and transforming it into a career.

As a student at Charles City High School, Kelly excelled academics as well as being a three-sport athlete. He had dreams of tossing baseballs across the mound at the next level, but tossing beanbags crept into his life.

“It started when my brother Trevor and grandfather went to a local tournament at Colonial Downs,” said Kelly during a July 6 interview. “They ended up finishing in the top ten out of 100 teams.”

So, after the academic lessons and athletic practices, Kelly began practicing the game with family and friends. Sunday dinners and family functions often consisted of friendly cornhole tournaments. But for Kelly, it was much more.

“I’m very competitive,” he said. “I don’t like to lose.”

Kelly began practicing for an hour a day. Eventually, he moved onto meeting with local groups from both Richmond and Virginia Beach, entering into his first regional tournament at the age of 17. In July 2015, he defeated the top junior’s player in the world.

It wouldn’t take long for the Charles City native to move onto the professional ranks. But as he admitted, he received a rude awakening. In his first national tournament, he was paired in the open round against Matt Guy, the top ranked cornhole player in the world.

“He kicked my butt,” Kelly admitted. “It wasn’t a pleasant experience.”

As Kelly transitioned from high school to college, the American Cornhole League (ACL) began to form. The organization searched for players to help organize gatherings and tournaments, and Kelly jumped on board.

“They were looking for regional directors and I called [ACL] representative Stacey Moore to run tournaments in the Richmond area,” Kelly said. “That gave me the ability to run tournaments and participate in them as well.”

Kelly started working as the ACL Richmond regional director as a freshman in college. As his sophomore year approached at Old Dominion University, he spoke about a typical week in his life that has been similar for the last three years up until his recent graduation.

“I worked as a residential assistant (RA) and then had classes that included physics and kinesiology,” he said. “I organized tournaments in Richmond while having school in Norfolk and every weekend, I would go to Richmond to run tournaments.

“It was a lot of late nights,” Kelly laughed.

Kelly’s support system allowed him to balance school, work, and the recreational activity.

“I thank my parents and grandparents because of their support and love,” he said. “They picked me up every weekend and transported me from Norfolk to Richmond and back.”

As ACL’s growth expanded, so did its recognition and Kelly’s experience on the cornhole circuit. He was one of 20 contracted ACL professionals invited to participate in the Coney Island tournament that appeared on ESPN2. Kelly plans to play in three national tournaments in Green Bay, WI, Kissimmee, FL, and Las Vegas, NV, and nine regional tournaments as he highlighted the organization’s growth. Kelly currently has won 234 contests in 105 events and hold a 55.6 win percentage.

“We have a tournament next week in Cherokee, North Carolina,” Kelly said. “It’s for $50,000 and it shows you the growth of the sport.”

The organization’s momentum has helped Kelly in a number of ways. The Charles City alum said that it assisted him with paying for two years of college and helped him start a small business that distributes cornhole products. However, Kelly admitted that so much time has kept him busy, and that it felt good to slow down and return to his hometown.

“It’s been so long since I’ve been down this way to Charles City and this area,” he said as he enjoyed a meal at Cul’s Courthouse Grille. “People don’t understand Charles City definitely has a diverse environment.

“This county and the people here are so underappreciated because it’s held to such a low standard,” Kelly continued. “It’s harder for people to shine, but you can see people who graduated from the class of 2014 and 2015 doing so many big things and starting their own businesses.”

Kelly continues to serve as ACL’s Richmond regional director. He runs tournaments on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Veterans of Foreign War Post 9808 in Mechanicsville, with proceeds going to veteran services. As far as his career as an active player, his expectations are high about both his future and the activity itself.

“Within the next five years I can see there being full-time professional cornhole players,” Kelly said. “With the exposure coming from television networks such as ESPN, ABC, and FoxNews, we are already starting to get more sponsorships. As we get more invitationals, we are going to get a stronger push.”

Kelly also hinted a possible ACL tournament returning to the area.

“With Colonial Downs reopening, it would be something interesting to have a tournament at the place that I first encountered it,” Kelly concluded.

For more information on tournaments or Kelly, you can check out ACL’s website at www.iplaycornhole.com.