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5,000 attend annual watermelon festival

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Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 12:05 am

Pageant contestants typically refrain from spitting in public.

But during the 65th Annual Newberry Watermelon Festival on Saturday afternoon, Florida Watermelon Association Queen Shelley Allen lost a speed-spitting contest to Alabama Watermelon Association Queen Kimberly McCay and National Watermelon Association Queen Jessica Southard.

The festival, which started in 1946 as a way to welcome returning World War II veterans,  remains one of the city’s largest events, said festival committee member and lifelong Newberry resident Kathi Thomas, who estimated about 5,000 people attended the festival throughout the day.

The queens’ impromptu competition followed the seed-spitting, watermelon-rolling, watermelon-eating and hog-calling competitions held under the Shaw Pavilion at the Canterbury Equestrian Showplace in Newberry. A rodeo took place later that night.

Southard, an agricultural communications major at UF, won her title in February and travels the country talking about the watermelon and agricultural industries.

“What I’m doing right now is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said.

Outside the pavilion and away from the action, two volunteers used machetes to slice watermelons donated by local growers. The half-moon-shaped slices lay in a puddle of juice and seeds, free to festival-goers.

“I never turned down watermelon,” said Melvin Hennessee, who traveled 65 miles from Summerfield for the free fruit. “When you want to see something, you got to go.”

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