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Regional rivalry: Dunkirk native to play for cornhole title on Sunday

Submitted Photo Pictured from left to right: Hunter Meyette, Ken “Mamba” Marx, Jennifer Depasquale, and Mike “Junior” Rabenhorst, Jr., are the members of the Buffalo Brawlers professional cornhole team.

Just over a year ago, the Buffalo Brawlers professional cornhole team was born. The team featured Dunkirk native Jennifer DePasquale on its roster, in a league spanning from New Jersey to Kansas.

Since then, issues with ownership led the Brawlers down a different path, and it certainly appears to have paid off. The Brawlers will play for the Lake Erie Regional Final in the North American Cornhole Association Pro Series on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.

The North American Cornhole Association (NACA) is comprised of 18 teams, split into three regions of six teams each. The Brawlers are part of the Lake Erie Region, which also includes the Hamburg Vipers, the Lockport Storm, the Springville Griffins, the Tonawanda Boltz, and a team based in DePasquale’s own hometown, the Dunkirk Chillerz.

Sunday afternoon, DePasquale will have a chance to play for a title, as the Brawlers have managed a perfect season to date through 10 contests. As a result, the Brawlers await the winner of the semifinal matchup between the Lockport Storm and the Dunkirk Chillerz. The semifinal takes place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with the championship to follow. The winner of the title takes home the $10,000 prize, then moves on to the next round.

“This is a huge game this Sunday,” DePasquale said. “Going 10-0 really means absolutely nothing now, because if we don’t win, we’re done.”

Because the Brawlers have the best record among all 18 teams in the North American Cornhole Association, if the Brawlers win on Sunday, they will play for the overall NACA Championship the following Saturday, June 29, which comes with a $30,000 prize along with the title.

A former multi-sport standout athlete at Dunkirk High School, DePasquale played both softball and basketball collegiately at Alfred State, then concluded her softball career at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, where she also played rugby. She also coached at Gowanda and Fredonia State.

But it was cornhole that gave DePasquale the honor of claiming the title of professional athlete. She discovered her passion for the sport during the pandemic, often traveling across Chautauqua County from Falconer to Sheridan, and even in her hometown of Dunkirk at 314 Central Avenue in Dunkirk with Blazin Bags Cornhole to hone her skills.

“It’s cool to say I’m a professional athlete,” DePasquale said. “Not many people can say that. I did a lot of practicing, and spent time away from family and work to make this team.”

Once the Buffalo Brawlers were formed, DePasquale made the initial 14-player roster after a tryout. Even after leaving Major League Cornhole, DePasquale stayed on as one of four members as part of the new Brawlers in the North American Cornhole Association.

“It was definitely stressful because we obviously weren’t sure if it was going to play out again,” DePasquale said of the process of leaving the initial league to form the NACA. She credited ownership for remaining dedicated to the sport as it continues to grow.

Most of the new teams this year were filled through a draft after a tryout process, but the Brawlers kept four players from last year’s team: Hunter Meyette, Ken “Mamba” Marx, Mike “Junior” Rabenhorst, Jr., and DePasquale. The Brawlers were one of three teams — one in each region — who kept their name and a core group of players from the previous league.

“I really do see it being something very successful around here. Cornhole has grown so much, even since I’ve started, within the last three to five years. There are so many good players around here,” DePasquale said. “… I just want to see this be successful and grow.”

DePasquale noted that she does know players on the Dunkirk roster and is glad her hometown has its own team, but she is happy with where she is. “I’m such a Buffalo Brawler. I started there and it’s where I want to finish,” DePasquale said.

The regional championship will be decided at the Aloft Buffalo Hotel, known as 500 Pearl. The semifinal and championship games can be viewed live on YouTube on the Sports Fan Base Network channel. More information is available online at go-naca.com or on Facebook on the Buffalo Brawlers Facebook page.

Dunkirk’s team is made up of Charles Hazeltine, Wil Kendall, Michael Lee and Scott Schaffer.

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