WINSTON — Juice dribbled down Dominic Obie Jr.’s chin as he scarfed down a giant slice of watermelon in a melon eating contest in Riverbend Park Saturday afternoon.
After several minutes of frenzied eating, the 11-year-old was the big winner of the annual competition during the 45th annual Winston-Dillard Melon Festival.
An eighth of a large watermelon was given to each of thirteen contestants for the competition. The contestants, of all ages, had to eat the fruit down to the white rind before they were declared done.
Other activities on Saturday included a parade, bingo coordinated by the Winston-Dillard seniors, a 45-balloon release to honor 45 years, a Wildlife Safari presentation of animal ambassadors and a performance by the rock group Paradox.
Dominic said he was pleased with his win. He said he did not have a specific plan going into the competition.
“I was just scraping along with my teeth and chewing and swallowing,” he said.
He said his lips were numb at the end, but it did not deter his love of the fruit.
“I’ll definitely keep eating watermelon,” he said.
Aurora Moschkau, 70, of Winston, said she joined the competition just so she could eat the fruit.
“I joined because I was hungry and I love watermelon,” she said. “I like any kind of fruit and I eat as much as I can buy.”
Almost 1,300 people had visited the festival by Saturday afternoon, according to a count at the gate.
The festival was organized by the Winston-Dillard Festival Association. Clay Caldwell, association president, said he was pleased with the turnout.
“The parade brought in lots of people and they’re hanging around,” he said.
Friday’s turnout was low, but cooler weather Saturday helped increase attendance, he said.
“I just hope the rain holds off tomorrow. The heat of 100 degrees last year hurt attendance,” he said. “The mild temperatures are definitely helping this year.”
Treasurer Keith Falls said he was pleased with the turnout.
“I see the kids smiling and having fun and that’s what I’m here for,” he said.
The Dillard-Winston Food Pantry collected canned food donations at the entrance.
The festival began in 1968 to celebrate melon growth in the area, Falls said. He said Dillard used to be famous for the “Dillard Melon,” a cantaloupe that was nationally known.
Farmers in California began irrigating their fields and producing melons earlier in the year, which flooded the market and eventually made Dillard melons less popular, he said.
Brosi’s Sugartree Farm is now the only place in the area that grows the melons, he said.
Falls said the association is trying to include youth in the festival.
“We’re trying to get the youth involved in volunteering early so maybe they’ll stay involved later,” he said.
Many vendor booths lined the park. Items for sale included jewelry, hats, clothing and paintings, and a wide variety of food options.
The festival continues today at 10 a.m. and concludes with a raffle drawing at 3:30 p.m.
Today’s activities include a Church in the Park service at 10 a.m. followed by more bingo, kids games and a Wildlife Safari presentation in the afternoon.
• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or by email at email@example.com.