While seeds last, stories of super spitting will continue
By Lynn R. Parks
Participants in the annual mayor’s invitational watermelon seed spitting contest that is part of Laurel’s annual July Fourth celebration may have a limited number of years to break the current world record of 68 feet, 9 and 1/8 inches: Watermelon seeds, except for people who are planting them to grow plants, may soon become a thing of the past.
Already, according to Ed Kee, vegetable crop specialist with the University of Delaware’s cooperative extension service in Georgetown, nearly 70 percent of all watermelons grown in the United States are seedless, the choice of consumers. When scientists find a way to grow plants that can produce fruit without being pollinated by the flower of a seeded variety, even the 30 percent of the crop that is now seeded will vanish, he predicted.
“About a third of the acreage that is planted now has to be seeded for pollination,” he said. He expects that that will not be the case in five or six years.
Consumers prefer that their melons come without nuisance seeds. Kee laughed at the suggestion that seed spitting contests will generate enough demand for seeds that farmers will plant some of their acreage in the seeded variety.
“I guess eventually we will have to import seeds for our seed-spitting contests,” he said. “Or use pumpkin seeds, and paint them black.”
Area mayors are feeling the pressure to claim records while they can. Laurel’s Mayor John Shwed said that he has hired watermelon farmer Vance Phillips for a coach. Seaford Mayor Dan Short claims to have developed a hybrid seed, aerodynamic, to ensure a win.
“We have put all our other business on hold to do this seed,” Short said, tongue, when a watermelon seed is not there, firmly in cheek. “It’s got a great glide effect. The only problem is, the seed is so big that I sometimes can’t get it in my mouth.”
Shwed also claims to have seeds that will be the key to his winning the contest trophy. “I am practicing in the driveway,” he said. “I am using the heavy, weighted kind of seeds, to make it better when I spit the real thing.”
Joe Conaway, president of the Bridgeville Commission, said that he carries with him all he needs to win the trophy for the third time and bring it to Bridgeville permanently. “There is no secret to my success,” said the portly Conaway. “One only need look at my physical appearance to understand where the necessary hot air comes from.”
New Delmar (Del.) mayor John Outten, said that he is not doing anything to prepare for the event, his first. “This don’t scare me none,” he said. “I’ll be able to spit it out — that’s all I care about.”
The world record in watermelon seed spitting is held by Lee Wheelis, a resident of Luling, Texas. Wheelis spit his record distance during the Luling Watermelon Thump, a four-day festival that dates back 52 years and that celebrates the agriculture of the area. The Thump, named for the tine-tested way of testing a melon for freshness, also features a melon eating contest.
The winner of Luling’s spitting contest receives $500, $1,000 if the world record is broken.
Wheelis set the record in 1989. Soon after, “people started calling me on the phone, wanting radio interviews,” Wheelis recently told CBS News Sunday Morning. “Kids at church came up and asked me for my autograph...And it was all kind of overwhelming.”
David Ruff, mayor of Blades, won last year’s contest in Laurel. While he has done nothing to prepare for this year’s contest, he still hopes to give the other contestants runs for their money, he said.
“I didn’t do anything to get ready last year,” he said. Or the year before, when his seed traveled so far that contest organizers couldn’t find it. The trophy was denied him that year, even though he believes that his seed traveled the farthest.
Mike Wyatt, mayor of Georgetown, similarly claims that he was cheated from a prize. “[Bridgeville commission president] Conaway cheated me,” he joked. “He sent something out to grab my seeds and slow them down, flying doves or something.”
Like Shwed, Wyatt said he is practicing his spit. And all mayors are preparing for upcoming challenges at Seaford’s Riverfest mayor’s challenge kayak race on the Nanticoke, the invitational scrapple chunk at Bridgeville’s Apple-Scrapple Festival in October — “We are already working on that hybrid scrapple now,” joked Short — and next year’s mayor’s hatchet toss at Return Day in Georgetown.
At least the Nanticoke River, scrapple and hatchets, unlike watermelon seeds, are not in danger of extinction.
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