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Watson Watermelon Festival draws fruit fans from near and far

Cake seemed to be the theme of the day last Saturday among participants of the fourth annual Tom Watson Watermelon Festival at Hickory Hill. Approximately 1,200 people attended the festival to enjoy activities such as seed spitting, melon launching and melon racing.

In the watermelon roll relay, children got on all fours to push a watermelon with their heads across a field to their partner who had to use the same method to bring it back to the starting line.

"It was easy as baking a cake," said Charles Dunn, 12, from Savannah. "The hardest part was trying to keep it going straight."

Elliott Dennis, 9, who is from Atlanta, also participated in the relay. Although he didn't mention cake, Elliott did say the race was "easy and fun."

"We're city folk. So to be here pushing a watermelon around with his head is a totally new experience," said his mother, Kim. "But he's got a hard head, so he enjoyed it."

Baking a cake turned out to be easy also for Thomson resident Linda Echols, who won first place in the recipe contest with her watermelon cake.

"I was a little hesitant to do it, because I am not a cake baker," Mrs. Echols said. "In fact, that's the first cake I've ever baked. And it was very easy. ... It's almost embarrassing to win with something that was that easy. But it was a good, extremely moist, very tasty cake."

Although it was her first cake, it was not Mrs. Echols first time to win the contest. Her original watermelon salsa recipe won first place in last year's contest. Mrs. Echols said she is already planning what to cook up for next year's contest.

Lincolnton resident Roy Blackburn is also planning for next year's festival. Mr. Blackburn enjoyed his first experience in a seed-spitting contest and took third place in the watermelon growing contest. Mr. Blackburn's entry weighed in at 38 lbs.

"I am definitely going to do it again," he said. "I just need to learn the tricks of growing them."

While venturing off to find a melon growing expert, Mr. Blackburn said he had never heard of the contest before. His mother went to McDuffie Feed and Seed in the spring to pick up some seeds, and brought back a package of the Tom Watson variety and news of the contest.

Another Lincolnton resident didn't bring a watermelon, but supplied something more important for the success of the festival. Earlier in the season, Beekeeper Danny Byrd brought three hives swarming with bees to pollinate the thousands of melon plants grown by landscape manager Dexter Rhodes at the Watson-Brown Foundation.

"He said they did a good job, and I guess they did," Mr. Byrd said as he gestured to the piles of melons.

Those attending the festival not only got to eat all the melon they wanted, but took their choice of a melon home with them. Mr. Rhodes said they gave away approximately 700 melons.

Mr. Byrd also brought the fruits of his labor - or rather the bees' labor - with his vending booth stocked with jars of honey.

"I was telling everybody to please buy the watermelon honey," said Michelle Zupan, the organizer of the festival.

Ms. Zupan said the festival was "terrific,"and she wished to thank the Boy Scout Troop #125 and Ft. Gordon's Regimental Noncommissioned Officer Academy, Class #25F 027-07 for their volunteer help.

Festival contest winners

Tom Watson Watermelon growing contest

Tied for 1st with 45 lbs., Ray Gurley & Norm Stevenson;

youth, Devan Anderson

Coloring Contest Winners

Ashante Mance (ages 3 to 5), D'anequa Wilson (ages 6 to 8), Mary Echols (ages 9 to 10),

Watermelon Waddle

Youth, Justin Bettross; Adult, Brenton Widener;

Senior, Bobby Rogers

Recipe Contest

1st Place Linda Echols, Watermelon Cake;

2nd Place Nancy Trivett, Watermelon Salsa

Seed Spitting

Marley Brown (ages 5 to 8), Charles Dunn (ages 9 to 12),

Jared Lattislaw (ages 13 to 17), Robert Blackburn (Adult)

Watermelon Three-legged Race

12 and under, Charles Dunn & Randy Rosas;

13 to 17, Donald Swiney & Jared Lattislaw

Watermelon Eating

Tommy Brown (ages 5 to12), Jared Lattislaw (ages 13 to 17), Sherree Johnson (adult)

Watermelon Shotput

Mens, David Gilmer (111 feet);

Womens, Jodie Paul (55 feet); Kids, Carrel Lundy (66 feet)

Web posted on Thursday, August 09, 2007

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