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Maine middle school student taking on adult world of competitive cornhole

Rilee Schoff is only 11, but after just two years playing cornhole, she is beating men three times her age in tournaments across Maine and the U.S.

HOLLIS, Maine — Most folks are probably familiar with the game cornhole. It's played from bars to beaches to backyards. What folks may not know is some people take the game very seriously.

Cornhole is a competitive sport growing rapidly in the U.S., and one of its elite players happens to be an 11-year-old sixth-grader from Massabesic Middle School.

"I like to put the pressure on people," said Rilee Schoff, who has only been playing the beanbag toss game for two years. 

It all started when her dad, Matt Schoff, brought home cornhole boards he purchased to help a family who was raising money for adoption. Their mission spoke to the father as he and his wife, Alissa Schoff, adopted Rilee Schoff and her twin brother from Haiti in 2011. 

The sixth-grader started playing in the backyard with her brother, but she admits now she didn't like the game at first. 

"It was boring, and I didn't want to be outside," Rilee Schoff said. Her disdain quickly changed when her dad suggested they practice to improve their game.  

"She caught fire with it," Matt Schoff said.  

It wasn't long before Rilee Schoff, and her father thought they were good enough to enter their first tournament, but their confidence was quickly checked. 

"We weren't that good," she said. 

Their poor performance motivated both father and daughter. 

"I would practice for hours until my dad would come home, and then I would practice more than him," the sixth-grader said.  

The American Cornhole League has no age limit, so kids can enter tournaments, although most competitive players tend to be middle-aged men. 

In the ACL, there are four tiers of players: novice, intermediate, competitive, and advanced. Rilee Schoff is now playing at an advanced level after winning a Maine championship in intermediate and competitive.  

She is often the only kid, the only girl, and the only person of color playing at tournaments across the state and now around the country. But Rilee Schoff doesn't seem concerned about sticking out. 

"When we first started going to these events, it's like sending your kid to a frat party," Alissa Schoff said.

"I met Rilee in October 2020 playing in Derry, New Hampshire, playing at one of the ACL events there," competitive player Craig Fairbank said. 

The first time he played against Rilee Schoff, Fairbank said, "I felt bad for Rilee honestly because I couldn't take it easy on her. I had to make sure that I beat her. She was just talking talking talking, and I was like, 'I need to focus, or I am going to get beat by a 10-year-old.'" 

To date, the sixth-grader has yet to beat Fairbank, but he knows that could just be a matter of time.

"I instantly had a connection with Rilee. She is a great kid and since then she has played plenty of my teammates, and she has beat them. I have to remind them, 'You gave me crap about playing a 10-year-old, and she beat you,'" Fairbank said. 

Rilee Schoff is looking for a new doubles partner. She used to play with her father, but he admitted she consistently beat him. Plus, they clashed over strategy, and Matt Schoff said he wants a father-daughter relationship with his daughter, not a cornhole partner relationship with her. 

Cornhole took Rilee Schoff and her family to tournaments across the U.S. where she won cash prizes up to $2,150. She is currently ranked 597th out of 10,076 players across the U.S.  

Rilee signed her first contract with a cornhole bag company, and she was recently selected from more than 300 kids nationwide to host a kids' show about cornhole. 

When asked what her favorite part of playing cornhole was, Rilee Schoff said, "I think winning is pretty fun, and getting to meet other people, and getting to know what their strategy is because that is the only way you get better."  

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