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'Sports Illustrated ' films eating contest

Although the football talent that comes out of Thomson is great, it was watermelon eating that brought Sports Illustrated to town.

A team of SI photographers attended the seventh annual Tom Watson Watermelon Festival at Hickory Hill earlier this month, and a video featuring the event is posted on the magazine's Web site.

"I'm just happy they came to Thomson, Georgia," said Michelle Zupan, the curator of Hickory Hill. "We're often overlooked for a lot of the cool stuff that we have. It's nice that an international entity came to Thomson."

Ms. Zupan, who also serves as chairwoman of McDuffie County's Convention and Visitor Bureau, said she's not exactly sure how the famous magazine found the event. She said it possibly happened as a result of posting it on "Explore Georgia," which is the state tourism and economic development site.

"We were very fortunate to be one of the top three events listed by Explore Georgia for August, and one of the top 10 over all things to do in the State of Georgia," Ms. Zupan said of the melon festival.

A few days before the festival, Ms. Zupan received a call from SI' s Sarah Tanner, asking if the photographers could take pictures and video at the event.

"I said 'sure, we'd be thrilled and we'll send them home with some watermelon,'" Ms. Zupan said with a laugh. "The video is just darling. We're really happy."

The 90-second video features video scenes and still photographs of the festival, with music and sound clips of people talking. It is part of non-traditional sports coverage featured on

"They're looking at what else America is doing, what else the world is doing, whether it's camel races or frog jumping contests. And, they thought shot putting a watermelon sounded completely alternative," Ms. Zupan said.

The melon festival is held the first Saturday in August each year, and features melon-themed activities such as watermelon eating, watermelon growing and seed spitting contests. Non-traditional activities include tossing, carrying and rolling melons in the shot put, slingshot and obstacle course contests.

"It's our way of sharing our bit of silliness with our community, to bring folks in and make people happy," Ms. Zupan said. "We love what we do, and this just goes to show that the community loves what we do, too."

To see the video, go to, click on "video". On the video page under "categories," click on "more sports" and select the watermelon eating contest. Or go to

Web posted on Thursday, August 26, 2010

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