District Attorney Jon David, left, and Fair Bluff Commissioner Randy Britt weigh the biggest entry in Saturday’s Watermelon Festival contest Saturday with Chandler Worley of the Watermelon Grower’s Association looking on. The 215-pounder grown by Rodney Register was a record for the Watermelon Festival.
Big crowds braved sweltering heat and high humidity Saturday for the 32nd annual N.C. Watermelon Festival in Fair Bluff, an annual observance that included a parade, melon quality and size contests, a watermelon seed-spitting contest and the Fair Bluff Rotary Club’s popular duck race.
While some had doubted that a Watermelon Festival would even be held this year in the wake of flood devastation in the town following Hurricane Matthew in October, organizers had insisted since just days after the flood that the festival would go on as a statement of Fair Bluff’s resilience, and a university-based team of professors, graduate students and consultants hired by the state to try to come up with ways for Fair Bluff to “re-invent” itself attended the festival and set up a booth to get resident input on ways for Fair Bluff to recover from the flood.
Rodney Register grew the biggest watermelon entered in the size competition, a 215-pounder that broke all previous records for the local festival. Robert Worley’s 159.5 pound melon was the second largest, while a 65-pound entry by John Bass took third place.
While entries in the size competition were not auctioned off, quality contest entries were sold to the highest bidders, and a watermelon grown by a youthful competitor fetched the highest price of all.
Abby Jenkins’ watermelon won first place in the youth division and was purchased by Rep. Brenden Jones and Sen. Danny Britt for $500. In the adult division, Elton Strickland’s first place entry was purchased by Big D and Carolina Eastern for $275.
The auction of youth melons brought a total of $1,925, while melons grown by adults sold for $2,000.
Other youth division winners were (with melon purchasers and amounts paid), in order of quality contest finish, Jackson Jenkins, Coastal Agribusiness, $150; Wilson Jenkins, Columbus County Farm Bureau, $150; Tucker Stacy, D.D. Cox, $125; Preston Kelly, Horry County State Bank, $175; Tanner Jenkins, Columbus County Farm Bureau, $175; Tyler Worley, Boyd Worley, $200; Ashley Strickland, Karen Grainger, $200; Brice Cannon, Horry County State Bank, $125; and Kevin Chavis, Fair Bluff Rotary Club, $150.
In the adult division winners were (with purchasers and amounts paid), in order of finish, Adam Worley, Dow Agricultural Science, $250; Guy Strickland, Meherin Agricultural, $150; Robert Worley, Coastal Agribusiness, $200; James Caviness, Columbus County Farm Bureau, $150; James Worley, Sygenta, $150; Glen Caviness, Yam City Oil Co., $125; Pamela Daviness, Behr Crop Science, $125; Jenny Worley, Monsanto, $150; Charity Worley, Carolina Eastern, 125; Emily Worley, Pioneer Seed Co., $150; and Matt Gore, Columbus County Farm Bureau, $150.
Earlier in the day a 30-minute parade consisting of elected officials, fire and rescue first responders and scores of local and visiting beauty queens traveled a route starting on Causey Road and ending at Columbus College and Career Academy.
Musical entertainment was provided throughout the day on the Riverside Drive entertainment stage by the Rev. Neill Smith, Madison Ellis and others, and vendors selling a wide range of goods offered items to festival-goers.
The usual watermelon-eating contest, an always popular event that sees who can eat the most watermelon in a short period of time, had to be cancelled due to an insufficient number of melon entries, but a watermelon seed-spitting contest was held as scheduled, although no winners were announced.
Although the day’s activities on the banks of the Lumber River Saturday ended with the Fair Bluff Rotary Club’s duck race, festivities continued at West Columbus High School Saturday night with the N.C. Watermelon Festival Young Miss, Teen Miss and Queen scholarship pageants and with the “little queens” pageant Sunday afternoon at West Columbus. Pageant winners will be announced in a subsequent edition.
In the duck race, in which competitors purchased $10 tickets from the Rotary Club to see their plastic ducks released from upstream to float down the river to a finish line at the boat ramp off Riverside Drive, Bill Suttles won the first place prize of $1,000 and Esther Scott took second place and $250. Third through fifth place awards, based on a drawing of tickets purchased wentto Owen B. Ward ($100), Bonita Pomeroy ($75) and Ashley Thompson ($50). Rotary officials said that more than 600 duck race tickets were purchased in what is always the civic club’s biggest fundraiser of the year.