The Yard Games World Championship may still consist of cornhole and the like, but the competition has long outgrown anyone's yard.
The championship will take place for the eighth year Saturday at its biggest venue yet: Emerson Park. There, 96 teams of two will spend the day competing in easygoing games like KanJam, where the goal is to throw a flying disc into a knee-high canister, or Flimsee, where it's to throw a disc through two sticks spaced about a foot apart. The championship spans a total of eight games.
"We always try to find games that literally anybody can play, and put them in an atmosphere that's not necessarily intimidating to anybody," said Michael Phillips, of Auburn, who co-founded the championship in 2011 with Bill Alfieri, also of Auburn, and Barry Thacker, of Geddes. Today, the three run the competition and other events through a company, Yard Games Coalition.
The first Yard Games World Championship saw six teams compete in Alfieri's backyard. By the fourth year, there were 48 teams and an additional 12 on a waiting list. As the field has grown, so has the venue. The last few championships took place at the Auburn Correctional Facility Recreation Center in Sennett, and one year, 80 teams converged on Yawger Brook Campground in Aurelius.
But even the recreation center was too cramped for the teams, so the coalition moved the championship to Emerson Park. The lakeside venue offers "virtually unlimited room for growth," Alfieri said. The coalition hires a professional photographer for the event, and this year, it will welcome a food truck for the first time. There will also be six yard game vendors, Phillips said.
The teams won't be the only people at the championship. It also attracts spectators, who can pay $20 for admission, lunch and entry into the event's raffles. This year's prizes include gift certificates, clothing and yard game equipment. The makers of four games will also showcase them for competitors to try, Phillips said. If feedback is positive, the games could become part of the championship.
Spectators could also join the action if a team doesn't show, Phillips said. This year's event will have competitors from as far as Ohio, Long Island and Buffalo. Team registration sold out a month ago.
The first round of the championship sees teams compete for 25 minutes per game before moving on to another. The teams with the best records then enter a playoff tournament. The winner receives $1,000, and the second- and third-place teams receive smaller cash prizes. There's also an all-women's bracket where the top two teams receive cash prizes, but entry is optional, Alfieri said.
As the championship goes on, Phillips said, the remaining teams tend to take the games a little more seriously. Others sign up just to wear costumes, which have become an increasingly bigger part of the event in the past few years. At lunchtime, crowd applause determines the winners of a costume contest, who receive free entry to next year's championship and a cash prize.
But competitors can't just dress up for no reason: Their costumes have to reflect a place they're representing in the championship, Phillips said.
"Teams just started wearing them and we thought it was a cool idea, so we made it official and had a contest," he said. "We've found the perfect balance between a party and a competition."