The search is on for the cutest, cuddliest of the woolly

October 01, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

October can be a pretty hairy month for science teacher John Geist.

Geist, a teacher at Clear Spring Middle School, each year dresses up as a caterpillar in honor of The Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack's Annual Woolly Bear Contest.

His seventh- and ninth-grade science students send in about 100 woolly bears each year and have probably walked away with one-third of the prizes, he said.

The contest, in its 20th year, is celebrated at the school with a 10-minute parade that features Geist in a black and orange costume and wig. The students who find caterpillars march while drummers play in the school halls. Festivities end when Geist drives off in his Nissan pickup truck, aka "The Woolly Bear Mobile," to deliver the school's entries to contest headquarters.


The almanac today is sending out a call for caterpillars to inch their way into the winner's circle.

Woolly bears are expected to be scarce this season due to dry weather, said Gerald Spessard, the Almanack's business manager, from "Woolly Bear Headquarters" at 1120 Professional Court, second floor, on Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown,

The contest, ending at Halloween, has two categories: Cutest and Cuddliest, and Biggest and Woolliest. Both first-place winners will get $100 and runners-up will get six copies of the Almanack.

Frank Leiter, the only judge in the contest's 20-year history, said selecting the cute caterpillars can be tough.

"It's like a beauty contest," he said. "You get all those beautiful girls up there and they all look nice."

Leiter said the winner of the "Biggest and Woolliest" is evident based on size.

Leiter narrows contestants down week by week so headquarters isn't overrun with critters at the end of the month.

The ones that don't make the cut are released at Doub's Woods Park near South Hagerstown High School, Spessard said.

Woolly bears are believed by some to be a tool for predicting the length and severity of winter based on their pattern of black and brown stripes.

In addition, "The longer the black stripes are, the worse you're going to have winter all season long," Leiter said. He said usually the longer black stripes are on the front of the woolly bear, indicating the first part of winter will be colder.

Geist said the children get the paycheck at the end of the contest if they win. The school also gives prizes to students who participate.

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