Bags league draws big following in Northwest suburbs
Larry Luttrell of Mount Prospect plays in two adult softball leagues each summer and he formerly coached girls' softball for the River Trails Park District.
All of which leaves him with a dilemma: what to do in the winter?
Roughly six years ago, he found his answer: Luttrell and one of his softball buddies, Jim Bergeron of Streamwood, teamed up to play in the Southside Beanbags League, run every week by the River Trails Park District during the winter months.
They're not alone. What started with six teams nearly 10 years ago now takes in 44 teams grouped in five divisions according to ability.
Officials believe it's the only park district bags league in the Northwest suburbs -- the only other ones are run by Carol Stream, Crystal Lake and Downers Grove
"It's perfect," Luttrell says. "It ends two weeks before softball starts."
Sure enough, on any given Tuesday or Wednesday night, you can find the parking lot at the Rob Roy Golf Course in Prospect Heights filled with cars.
Inside the park district's 10th Hole Bar and Grill are four sets of cornhole platforms. The thumping of the beanbags hitting the wood resonates through the room.
Many of the players are men, and they generally range in age between 35 and 55, says Recreation Superintendent Vance Violante, league coordinator.
"It's a night out and a chance to be active with friends," Violante says. "People compare it to bowling league, since it's very social."
Many of the players on a recent night had met as fathers in the YMCA's Indian Princess program, where they used to play bags on campouts.
"The kids got older, but this gives us a chance to still get together," said Joe Samperi of Mount Prospect.
Other teams include former softball coaches, like Luttrell and Bergeron, as well as teachers and administrators from River Trails Elementary District 26, co-workers and neighbors.
Garrett Vick, 23, and Adam Reese, 22, were among the younger players on hand. Both were standout athletes at Hersey High School, and they vividly remember playing bags at college tailgate parties.
But they found joining a competitive league took their game to a whole new level.
"They publish individual statistics and league standings -- every week," says Vick, who still holds some of the track records at Hersey. "This is serious bags."
Which is what they wanted.
Violante gets some of the credit. As a park district administrator, he wanted to establish a league much like any other sport, with different groups of ability -- based on their statistics, scheduled matches each week, all leading up to the final two weeks of tournament play.
"I wanted to create an environment where they know they're going to get good matches," Violante says.
Having the bar and grill room inside the Rob Roy clubhouse helped. With its arched ceiling -- which reaches 25-feet at its highest point -- and open layout, not to mention the bar, the venue meets all the requirements for bags enthusiasts.
"There's a lot of technique that goes into it -- everyone's throw is different," says Luttrell, who works at Abt Electronics in Glenview. He likes that it keeps his arm loose. "I'm a pitcher in softball, so it's the same motion."
Play ends in April, but starts up in September, after the end of softball, naturally. Find out more at www.rtpd.org.