Sports before basketball: The origins of lacrosse and cornhole | Orange County Finder | Indy Week
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Sports before basketball: The origins of lacrosse and cornhole 

The Carolina Basketball Museum is down the street from the Dean Smith Center, where the UNC Tar Heels play.

Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

The Carolina Basketball Museum is down the street from the Dean Smith Center, where the UNC Tar Heels play.

In May, the University of North Carolina women's lacrosse team won a national championship that might well portend the beginning of a dynasty. The men's team has been of championship caliber for some time.

Lacrosse, as you probably know, is of Native American origin. But Orange County's Native Americans played a different game. When, in 1701, the explorer John Lawson traveled the Great Trading Path to Occaneechi Village, near present-day Hillsborough, he found the menfolk at play at a game called chenco, or tchung-kee, also sometimes called hoop and pole or, more exotically, netteeawaw.

The game, Lawson wrote, "is carry'd on with a Staff and a Bowl made of Stone, which they trundle upon a smooth Place, like a Bowling-Green, made for that Purpose."

A year prior, the Jesuit Jacques Gravier had observed the same game down in Louisiana, describing a "fine level square where from morning to night there are young men who exercise themselves in running after a flat stone which they throw in the air from one end of the square to the other."

The men would hurl their poles—6 to 8 feet long, tapered at each end and anointed with bears' oil—at the stone. Points were scored based on how close they landed to the mark.

Players would wear silver ornaments and nose rings and expose their midriffs.

A trader named Adair, an Englishman, wrote that, "All the American Indians are much addicted to this game, which to us appears to be a task of stupid drudgery."

It would be another 300 years before cornhole would take hold in the South. If you're unacquainted with cornhole, here are the rules: lob a bag filled with beans in the direction of a hole.

Chenco was translated to mean "hard labor running." Much sweat was expended. Losers sometimes committed suicide.

Cornhole goes nicely with a cold one. Losers buy.

Taylor Sisk is a writer and editor based in Carrboro.

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