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Festival delights watermelon fans

It was raining watermelons Saturday in Thomson. The Watson-Brown Foundation gave out 1,000 free watermelons to twice that many festival attendees for the third annual Tom Watson Watermelon Festival at Hickory Hill.


Khloe Reeves, 3, smiles as she gets her face painted during Saturday's Tom Watson Watermelon Festival.

The threat of rain and the intermittent drizzle did not intimidate the crowd, the vendors or the festival organizers.

"We're glad for the rain. It's been overcast all day. The drizzle is a whole lot better than 98 degree temperatures. And we still stayed quite busy," said Phyllis Giddens, the director of external affairs for the Morris Museum of Art.

Michelle Zupan, the curator for the Foundation, said a head count taken during the middle of the day counted 2,000 in attendance. Ms. Zupan said this was the biggest festival yet with professional musicians and more vendors and contests than ever. Even the watermelons were bigger.

Two entries for the largest Tom Watson variety watermelon came in above 50 pounds. Dexter Rhodes, the landscaping manager for the Watson-Brown Foundation, said the largest melon he grew at the foundation this year was 43 pounds.


Victoria Hagerman takes a bite out of a piece of watermelon during Saturday's festival.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm very pleased with the winner growing a 50-plus pound melon. ... So my expectations were exceeded," Mr. Rhodes said.

Second-place winner, George Coussons, said watermelons grow well in hot temperatures, "and by golly, we had a lot of hot weather this year." Mr. Coussons said he has grown the melons for several years, and kept up with the statistics, but this was his first time to enter the contest.

"I knew what mine weighed, and I knew what the weights have been in the past. ... So I felt pretty confident until the last five minutes of registration when Mr. McCorkle showed up and busted my bubble. That's the first time one pound of watermelon ever cost me that much money," Mr. Coussons said, referring to the $100 difference in prize money between first and second place.

Approximately 20 vendors brought their crafts such as hand-made specialty purses, wooden toys and natural lotions, a variety of foods ranging from smoked turkey legs and fruit smoothies to deep-fried twinkies, and educational opportunities such as the environment and reptiles.


Nate York, a volunteer from Fort Gordon

"I liked the shopping. I looked at a lot of cute stuff; there was so much to see," said Taylor Smith, who enjoyed the festival with her friends, Breanna Hawkins, Taylor Gay and Brandy Jenkins, all 11-years-old.

The recipe contest brought in dishes that included a pie, drinks, jellies, rind pickles and rind preserves. First place winner, Linda Echols, said she created her salsa recipe by "looking at a lot of recipes, and I just put things together and took things out and added things and just played around with it."

Mrs. Echols said she attends the festival every year, and each year she chides herself for not entering the contest.

"But I haven't. So, this year, just at the last minute I decided to try it, and really didn't expect to do anything with it, and it was really sort of a shock to me, but it made me feel real good," she said.

Musical entertainment rounded out the afternoon with the talents of Skyla Spencer and Thomson's Crosstie Walkers. Ms. Spencer, who was awarded the 2001 New Female Vocalist of the Year at the Golden Music Awards in Nashville, said she was on a radio tour traveling through Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.

"This is my first time to a watermelon festival. The people of Thomson have been so nice, they've given me a warm reception," Ms. Spencer said.

And, of course, there was all-you-can-eat free watermelon. Folks also were able to take free watermelons to enjoy at home.

Mr. Rhodes said he brought in about five varieties of watermelons, all grown on the grounds of The Watson-Brown Foundation. The Tom Watson variety is the heirloom honored by the festival. Mr. Rhodes said the Tom Watson watermelon is typically large and has a lot of seeds. This year, the Foundation gave out over 100 packets of Watson variety seeds.


Jenna Sanford, the 2006 Georgia Watermelon Queen, sings.

"We were so fortunate that the weather held for the Festival - it was touch and go there for a while. We couldn't be happier. It's been a slam-up festival," Ms. Zupan said.

Tom Watson Watermelon Salsa

By Linda Echols

1/4 cup orange marmalade

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup jalapeno peppers, chopped

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

2-3 cups Tom Watson watermelon, chopped

1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped

1/2 orange, chopped

Stir first six ingredients, and then add the next three ingredients; mix well. Chill one hour before serving. Serve with chips, bagel chips, or over chicken or fish.

To can, cook on low for 10 minutes, then seal in sterilized jars. This is good poured over cream cheese and served with crackers.

Tom Watson Watermelon Festival Contest Winners

Coloring Contest

3-6 year olds - Spencer Shank

6-10 year olds - Angelique Perez

Watermelon Waddle (2-mile run)

Youth - Justin Bettross

Adult - Ed Bettross

Senior - Darrell Wells

Melon Growing

First place, $300 - Jesse McCorkle (52 lbs.)

Second place, $200 - George Coussons (51 lbs.)

Third place, $100 (tie) - Raymond Curley (33 lbs.), Norman Stevenson (33 lbs.)

Youth - Elizabeth Stevenson (26 lbs.)

Recipe Contest

First place - Linda Echols (Watermelon Salsa)

Second place - Betty Davis (Watermelon Chillers)

Third place - Nell Lee (Watermelon Rind Pickles)

Melon Carving Contest

First place - Ty Sultz (Rose Bouquet)

Second place - Vera Anderson (Tropical Fish)

Seed Spitting

12 and younger - Michael Campbell (12 ft., 1 in.)

13 and older - Nate York (26 ft., 7 in.)

Watermelon Roll

Ages 1-3 - Dixan Evans

Ages 5-12 - Evan Gheesing

Ages 13-18 - Gage Wright

Greased Watermelon, 3-Legged Race

12 and younger - Brooke Livingston & Hannah Neville

13-18 years old - Marcus Wilson & Jautabitha Hardens

Watermelon Eating

Ages 5-12 - Ben Brunner (8 pieces)

Ages 13-17 - Jautabitha Hardens (3 pieces)

Ages 18 and older (tie) - Sheree Johanson (4 pieces), Jody Paul (4 pieces)

Melon Shot-Put

Chris Hayse (61 ft., 2 in.)

Click on images for more photos

Web posted on Thursday, August 17, 2006

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