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Sure, you’ve got cornhole skills. But could you go pro? (Photo Credit: mirror-images)

Greg Cocheo’s competitive fervor — as well as the state of competitive cornhole on the North Fork and Long Island, for that matter — can be directly correlated to the odometer on his Chevy Silverado 1500 pickup truck.

Like a cornhole version of Johnny Appleseed, Mr. Cocheo could be recognized as the North Fork’s top player and promoter of the game. Despite his repeated efforts, though, competitive cornhole has failed to gain traction in the Town of Southold, forcing Mr. Cocheo, 47, to take his game on the road. In order to sharpen his skills, he has traveled to other states (Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida are some he mentioned) to compete in tournaments and fundraisers. Closer to his East Marion home, he has taken part in leagues in Bay Shore and Farmingville.

“My average travel to a tournament is three hours,” he said, noting that he can be away from home at a tournament for several days. Long Island tournaments tend to be more social, he said.

The owner of convenience stores in Mattituck and Southold, Cocheo, a husband and father of two, figures most of his free time is devoted to cornhole. It was a passion he picked up eight or nine years ago while at someone’s house watching a football game. At halftime they went outside. Cocheo was introduced to this beanbag game called cornhole that was new to him.

Just like that, he was hooked.

Cocheo built a regulation court in his backyard with lights and began attending tournaments. Now he is the Long Island regional director for the American Cornhole League as well as a founder of the Long Island Cornhole Association. He is a ranked player in the American Cornhole League and owns about 20 sets of boards and some 30 sets of bags.

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Greg Cocheo qualified for pro status in cornhole last year. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Greg Cocheo)

Cocheo applied for pro status last year and was accepted but ultimately declined, he said, because of the time and travel demands to compete in required events.

Cornhole — also known sometimes as bags, sack toss or bean bag — seems like a simple game, at first glance. Players take turns throwing bags of corn kernels at an inclined platform with a hole at the far end.

Simple, right?

Well, not really.

World championships are contested for cornhole. Enthusiasts can watch tournaments throughout the country on their digital devices. ESPN has televised cornhole.

“There’s a lot more skill behind it than people think,” Cocheo said. “It’s not about just throwing a bag … in a hole. There’s a lot of strategy that goes into playing against other people of all different skill levels.”

Cocheo’s hunger to continually improve — and win — has pushed him to make all those road trips so he can compete against tougher competition.

Pete Harris, a cornhole player from Greenport, said Cocheo is not only one of the best players he has ever seen, but the most competitive person he knows — a perfectionist. Defeat doesn’t sit well with him. “Losing is not in his vocabulary,” said Harris.

Asked about that description of his competitive nature, Cocheo said: “Who wants to lose in this world? Nobody. Nobody remembers the loser. They only remember the winners.

“You ever hear the saying, you hate losing more than [you enjoy] winning? That’s it in a nutshell.”

At the same time, Harris said, Cocheo will be the first person to help an opponent by showing him what he is doing wrong.

Harris met Cocheo about three years ago, was bitten by the cornhole bug and learned tricks of the trade from Cocheo to become a better player himself. He said it’s a game in which age and sex have no bearing.

“It’s a wonderful game,” Harris said. “I’m 67 years old, and when I’m playing people half my age and defeat them, I take much joy.”

While there are plenty of places to play cornhole casually on the North Fork, especially this time of year, Cocheo would love to see competitive cornhole being played on the North Fork, and is doing what he can to try to plant roots.

“There’s nothing else, outside of being with my family, that I’d rather be doing,” he said. “This is like my huge stress release. A bad day of throwing bags is still better than a good day of work.”

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