The best ears of their lives: Once in jeopardy, sweet-corn party back in business

Becca Stout, right, celebrates with her twin Anna, 28, both of Grand Junction, after Becca won the corn-eating contest at the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival on Saturday. Becca Stout also won the women’s division in 2012. This year, she competed against men and downed seven ears in three minutes. Several other competitors ate only six.

Some contestants used their teeth like a razor, ripping the kernels from the cob. Others devoured the lip-smacking, sweet corn by twisting the cobs around in their mouths, yellow chunks flying to the ground and sticking to hair and faces. With a stick-straight back and a determined look on her face, Becca Stout of Grand Junction defended her corn-eating title, demolishing seven ears of corn in three minutes.

“It’s all in the wrist,” she was overheard saying after accepting the first-place prize in the women’s category, a $50 gift card.

Traditions such as the corn-eating contest might have been shucked off if the town of Olathe hadn’t decided at the last minute to revive its annual Olathe Sweet Corn Festival this year.

During its 22nd annual event on Saturday, the tone was deliberately more subdued than in its heyday when the likes of Travis Tritt and LeAnn Rimes rocked crowds of up to 20,000.

Two friends, Stanley Gardner of the Olathe area and Brandon McConnell of Grand Junction rather liked that the festival had reverted back to its hometown feel.

They were dressed in identical T-shirts displaying a super-sized ear of corn emerging from its husk. Only a couple hours in to their day, they were lured by the all-you-can eat corn, each polished off five ears. After a break, they would go back for more.

McConnell didn’t mind that the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival was without a lineup of hot country stars.

He did love the fireworks of years past and would have liked to see them Saturday night.

“That’s what tops it off,” he said, longingly.

If it weren’t for an outpouring of volunteers, the festival that celebrates the area’s abundant sweet corn harvest would have gone dark. Town leaders said the city couldn’t risk losing money on hosting festival because the cuts would be felt in basic city services. Last year’s event cost the city $16,000.

Volunteers like Beth McCorkle of Montrose ensured the event returned. McCorkle and her partner actually decided to move to the area from Littleton last year after being impressed by a former Olathe Sweet Corn Festival which featured country music singer Wynonna Judd.

“We knew we wanted to come help,” McCorkle said while shucking roasted corn for hungry folks. “The festival is one of those things you want to keep.”


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