In for a kernel, in for a title
In the end, it almost came down to counting the kernels: Were there more remaining on Becca Stout’s 11th cob or on Susan Crawley’s?
It was close, but when emcee Scott Green held them up for the audience to judge, it was obvious that Stout’s was the cleaner cob. So, for the third year running, she was named champion of the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival’s corn eating contest.
“It’s my favorite day of the year,” she said with a smile after the four-minute contest. Her secret? “It’s all in the wrist,” she explained. “The wrist and the top teeth.”
The corn eating contest is one of the hallmark events of Olathe’s signature festival for its signature crop. In recent years, the festival weathered through financial hardship and was even briefly cancelled last year before rallying back to life.
This year, its 23rd, organizers expected crowds in the hundreds, drawn to the event for its entertainment, vendors, children’s activities and, of course, an abundance of roasted sweet corn.
Which leads naturally to the corn eating contest. This year’s event was preceded by a corn dog eating contest, with corn dogs provided by Wienerschnitzel. Participants had to down 10 dogs, and like so many difficult things, it seemed easy at first.
Sitting at a table on the festival’s main stage, the 10 contest entrants laughed and joked. But it wasn’t so funny by corn dog number five. Cameron Pensyl seemed to stare into the middle distance with watery eyes as he headed into dog No. 10, but he got it down and won a T-shirt for his efforts.
“We made a bet and I have to buy him a case of beer now,” said his friend, Reid Kalsow, who managed six corn dogs. The two Colorado State University students are working on an Olathe farm for the summer and thought it would be fun to enter.
In second place was Steven Crawley, who came down from Grand Junction with his mom, Susan, and pestered her to enter the corn eating contest. She put up a good fight, but was edged out by Stout, who attended the festival with her Team Cob Gobbler support crew (she and her family and friends were wearing fluorescent pink T-shirts with that tongue-in-cheek name printed on the back).
Holding a cob in her left fist, she worked at it steadily in a typewriter back-and-forth. While others attacked their cobs in a frenzy, she was methodical, scraping her top teeth down the cobs and pausing to chew and swallow.
Winning the contest was a fun victory for the thin blonde nail technician — her training for the event consisted of drinking a beer in the parking lot beforehand and eating a single ear of corn — a fun story and the fulfillment of a childhood goal to enter a corn eating contest.
“Now,” she said afterward, “I can go and actually enjoy the corn.”