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Contest brings out the mess in them at Berkeley fair

August 05, 2005|by HEATHER KEELS

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

heatherk@herald-mail.com

It was a long, long table, and there was a long, long wait for each of the 41 eager, squirming children seated around it to be handed first a paper towel, then two juicy slices of watermelon, but not one took a bite before the shout of, "ready, set, GO!"

Instantly, the ring was full of cheers and shouts, dribbling juice and 41 heads frantically burrowing into melon. The Berkeley County Youth Fair's annual watermelon eating contest had begun.

What was it that drew so many 9- to 14-year-olds to enter the contest? It could have been the cash prizes or the promise of a cold, juicy melon on a hot day, but assistant coordinator Keena Crowell had another idea: "The mess."

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For the first-place youth winner, 12-year-old D.J. Manor of Inwood, W.Va., mess was part of the strategy.

"First I just squish it. It's 90 percent water," D.J. said matter-of-factly, his T-shirt soaked with the sticky, pink evidence of his victory. Minus the juice, he only had to shovel the seedless red flesh into his mouth before standing up to announce he was finished.

Crowell, who is trained in first aid, said Manor made her nervous when he gagged for a minute, but she said she's never had to do the Heimlich maneuver. The fair has been having watermelon eating contests "as long as I can remember," she said.

For others, such as 13-year-old Melissa Michaels of Back Creek Valley, W.Va., watching everyone shoveling watermelon into their mouths was part of the fun.

"It was funny watching," she said. "Everyone gets really messy."

Melissa, on the other hand, managed to keep her shirt clean.

Asked her strategy, she said, "I eat slowly. I wasn't in a rush. I don't do it to win."

"Yeah, she just does it for the food," chipped in her friend Chad Starner, 14, of Hedgesville, W.Va., who was finishing one of Melissa's pieces for her. Starner came in second for the second year in a row.

After the table was mopped down, the much smaller 15-21 competition began, producing another repeat winner: Whitney Henry, 17, of Hedgesville, who was last year's Berkeley County Youth Fair queen as well as the watermelon eating contest winner.

"I told you I couldn't be beat," she shouted after the contest, though she admitted she'd had some help from a friend.

The hardest part was not getting water up her nose, which she said feels the same as drinking fizzy cola. Still, she didn't mind the inconvenience.

"I was actually kind of hungry," she said.

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