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Fifth Annual Tom Watson Watermelon Festival fun for all ages

With organizers calling it one of the best ever, the Fifth Annual Tom Watson Watermelon Festival drew about 2,000 people to historic Hickory Hill in Thomson last Saturday.

"It is gratifying to do this every year and to watch so many children having fun," said Tad Brown, president of the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc. "This is good family fun and seems to get bigger and bigger every year."

Many of the fun-filled events centered on games for both young and older participants.

There was even a watermelon eating contest, which was broken down into age divisions and became one of the biggest highlights of the day.

Two other events also drew lots of participants - the watermelon crawl and the watermelon seed spitting contest. And for the first time ever, there was even a watermelon sling-shot contest.

And for those who have a deep appreciation for history, special guided tours were held to get a better perspective of the man named Tom Watson and how he became such a prominent figure in Georgia. Mr. Watson quickly rose in prominence and became a state senator. He even launched a bid to become president.

There was even live entertainment from the Bluegrass Sound Band of Marietta.

For the first time ever, Georgia Pro Bass Fisherman J Todd Tucker, also was there to promote the group known as Clarks Hill Partnership of Georgia, Inc. in which McDuffie County is a member.

Mr. Tucker socialized with hundreds of people during the daylong event and allowed those who wanted to sit in his bass boat an opportunity to do so. He also posed for photographs and signed autographs.

One of those getting in on the opportunity, locally, was Anita Cummings, principal of Thomson Elementary School.

"This is a blast," she exclaimed, while sitting in the boat along side Mr. Tucker. "I wish I could go out and actually ride on the water with him. I think that would be a lot of fun."

Kevin Stagner, who lives in North Augusta, S.C., is going to get such an opportunity. For Mr. Stagner won a raffle to go on a private bass fishing trip with Mr. Tucker in the future.

The benefit raffle was sponsored by the Watson-Brown Foundation Inc. in an attempt to raise money for the building of a new McDuffie Environmental Education Center at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources state ponds near Dearing.

Before the day's events began unfolding, McDuffie County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton talked about the importance of building such a new educational center which would help serve thousands of students throughout the Central Savannah River Area.

"This is a teaching center where students learn the importance of conserving water, fuel and other valuable resources," Mr. Newton said. "It's something very much needed. It's mighty refreshing when you have citizens like the Watson-Brown Foundation people who want to work and make our county better."

Mr. Newton followed the Rev. Ella Mae Samuels, a member of the McDuffie County Board of Education, in blessing this year's Tom Watson Watermelon Festival.

Mr. Newton closed his comments, saying, "Let's have a great day and spit some watermelon seeds."

Because the event focuses on watermelon - hundreds of watermelons were given away to those attending the festival - compliments of the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc.

"This is so much fun," said Billie Tudor, of Dearing, while eating a slice of sweet watermelon before 10 a.m. "It's a lot of fun just to come and watch all the people."

She and her husband, Lindy, walked the grounds of the Watson-Brown Foundation, talking with friends along the way.

"This is a great way to spend the morning before I have to go to work," said Mr. Tudor.

Many of those who attended the festive event were first-timers.

Mark Swanson, who drove from Augusta with his two daughters, Piper, 7 and Abbey, 5, was one of those persons.

"This is our first time attending," Mr. Swanson said. "I think it's a wonderful event. There's so much to do - too much to even feel the heat."

Angela Barrow, of the Edgehill Community of Glascock County, came with her 11-week-old infant, Ayden. One of the events she watched while her baby sucked formula from a bottle was the watermelon eating contest, which drew dozens of participants.

Another exciting event was the watermelon roll, where participants had to literally use their head to roll a watermelon along a marked course. One of those participating in that event included 8-year-old Justin Swiney, a second grader at Dearing Elementary School.

"It was hard, but it was fun," he said afterwards with a big smile on his face.

Hickory Hill Curator Michelle Zupan thanked a number of soldiers from the U.S. Army who volunteered their time to help with this year's watermelon festival. The soldiers are members of Company C, 73rd Ordinance Battalion at Ft. Gordon.


- Watermelon Growing: Luther Blackburn, first place with a melon weighing 38.26 lbs. and claiming a prize of $300; Leon May, second place with a melon weighing 35.42 lbs. and winning $200; and Inez Rabun, third place with a melon weighing 35.42 lbs. and winning $100. In the Youth Division, Devan Anderson had a melon that tipped the scales at 27.12 lbs. He claimed a $75 prize.

- Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest: 5-8 year old division, Justin Sweney, a distance of 14 ft., 9 in.; 9-12 division, Nyheim Gartrell, 20 ft.; 13-17 division, Jared Latrall, 18 ft.; and Adult division, Lester Maddox, 22 ft.

- Recipe: Marshall Echols, Watermelon Pizza;

- Dress-A-Melon, Grace Garrett;

- Shot Put: Todd Madore, from Ft. Gordon, first place with a distance of 77 ft.; David Crites, second place with a distance of 64 ft., 1 in.; and Ronald Shandley, from Ft. Gordon, third place with a distance of 60 ft.and 8 in.;

- Watermelon Roll: 5 to 8 yrs Justin Sweeney - 1 min 25 sec.; 9 to 12 yrs Smith Adams - 1 min 12 sec.; 13 to 17 yrs Laura Doolittle - 1 min 47 sec.

- Balloon Obstacle Course: 5 to 8 yrs Justin Sweeney - 42.16 seconds, 1 balloon; 9 to 12 yrs Lily (last name not given) - 27 seconds, 1 balloon

- Watermelon Eating: 5 to 8 yrs Justin Sweeney - 5 slices; 9 to 12 yrs Nyheim Gartrell - 16 slices; adult Mark Greene - 8 slices.


See more photos from the Tom Watson Watermelon festival at

Web posted on Thursday, August 07, 2008

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