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Watermelons get eaten, thrown at annual festival

All it takes is a big mouth and a big stomach.

Add a little speed, and you've got the perfect recipe for winning a watermelon-eating contest.

"It was fun if you've got a big enough mouth," said Dakota Johnson, 11, who tied for first place in the contest at the Tom Watson Watermelon Festival Saturday.

"You get this big feeling in your stomach before you start. But, once you start, you just get to looking at everybody else and see where they are, and you just speed up and make sure you're faster."

Dakota tied with his friend, Lacee Bartkus, in the 9-12 year old category of the contest. They ate six melon wedges each. Lacee said it was her first experience eating melons in a contest, and she was "a little nervous." However, she enjoyed it so much, she plans to practice so she can beat Dakota next time.

"He was eating so fast, I thought he was going to eat the rinds," said Dakota's brother, Will, 13.

The melon eating contest was one of many watermelon-themed activities enjoyed by hundreds at the seventh annual festival at Hickory Hill in Thomson. Whether it was carrying a greased melon through an obstacle course, rolling one by getting on all fours and pushing it with your head, or shooting them from a giant sling shot, there was an activity for all ages.

"It's time to watch a bunch of grown folks making fools of themselves," quipped Tad Brown, president of the Watson-Brown Foundation, as he announced the start of the Melon Shotput. "This would be much more fun if Anheuser Busch sponsored it, but we'll enjoy it anyway."

Approximately 15 men and women managed to hand "shoot" the small melons anywhere from 30 to more than 100 feet.

"Apparently, we're doing it freestyle, and that makes it a little easier," said Brian Bythway, of Hephzibah.

Even the vendors enjoyed themselves.

"I've never been to a festival where they have air conditioned portable porta potties," said Ursula Milford, of Lincolnton. Mrs. Milford ran Milford's Concessions, which sold funnel cakes, fried oreos and boiled peanuts. "It's got all the comforts. All it needs is the welcome home wreath hanging on the door."

Web posted on Thursday, August 12, 2010

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