Cornhole tournament helps Cheyenne River Sioux tribe

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
East Haddam - posted Tue., Aug. 2, 2011
Horsehoe expert Leo Rudewicz, part of the wining team in the cornhole tournament, practices his toss. Photos by Kevin Hotary.
Horsehoe expert Leo Rudewicz, part of the wining team in the cornhole tournament, practices his toss. Photos by Kevin Hotary.

At approximately 2.8 million acres, the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in central and South Dakota is about the size of Connecticut, with a population of only about 15,000. But with an infant mortality rate five times the national average, 95 percent unemployment, and a high school drop-out rate of about 75 percent, it’s perhaps not too surprising that the suicide rate is three times the national average, as well.

“There’s just not a whole lot for them to look forward to,” said Patti Lombardo. Lombardo is leading the Lakota Volunteer Service Team, a group sponsored by East Haddam’s First Church of Christ Congregational, which will travel to the Cheyenne River reservation with the goal of trying to make the future of the children living there a little bit brighter. Her team will travel to the reservation in June 2012, with Simply Smiles (www.simplysmiles.org), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished children throughout the world.

The primary goal of the team, said Lombardo, “is to go out and do some work on their housing,” including building new, energy-efficient dwellings, rather than just trying to improve their current structures. “All of the housing there would be condemned if it were here,” said Lombardo. In addition, the team will host a summer camp for children on the reservation and will spend some time simply “learning about their culture, what they are all about,” she said.

To help raise funds for the trip, Lombardo organized a Cornhole Tournament, which was held on the grounds of the church last Saturday, July 30. Cornhole is “kind of a mobile horseshoe tournament,” said Lombardo, in which competitors toss corn-filled cloth bags across a distance of about 10 yards onto a raised platform containing a hole slightly bigger than the bag. Players score points by tossing their bags through the hole.

Lombardo saw cornhole being played and thought it looked like fun, so she had several platforms made and decided to host the tournament, in which teams paid an entry fee for the chance to win a cash prize.

“We have this game at our house. It’s like horseshoes. We bring it out at parties,” said Donna DeNino, who entered the tournament with some family members. An expert of the game, DeNino said that there are a variety of strategies you can use when playing cornhole, including using a low arc to try and slide the bag along the platform and through the opening – “but usually they just slide right off,” she said – or her preferred method of using a high arc and hoping for a “swish.”

‘We’re going to win, Dylan!” she said to her young teammate. They were competing next to Dylan’s father, and the winner of the last cornhole tournament, John Hutra, who was teamed up with Leo Rudewicz, a member of the Deep River Horseshoe League.
“Looks like we have some competition,” said a smiling Hutra.

Lombardo said that she currently has about 10 people on her team that will travel to the reservation next June, but she is still looking for volunteers, as she would like to take 25. She also hopes to have the fundraising finished by February, so she can then concentrate on gathering all of the items – food, clothing and building supplies – to be shipped.


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