"We have some spitters that spit all year 'round," Bailey said.

After I shook hands with Watermelon Thump Queen Megan Cox, I toured the Spitway -- an arena (decked out with murals of watermelons) featuring a special spitting floor painted white to make the spotting of the spits easier.

Later in the day, I sat down to watch the children's spitting competition, held the night before the main event. I listened carefully to James Nickells, the "Ambassador of Spit," as he told America's youth how to further their spit.

Word Watermelon Seed Spitting Championships
If you're going to be the belle of the fruit ball, you could do a lot worse than watermelon.

His recommendations: Roll the tongue, put the seed in the middle and blow as hard as possible.

Then he went over the rules:

1. Each contestant gets two spits with two seeds.

2. For the spit to be legal, it has to fall within the boundaries. (The Spitway is about 15 feet wide and 85 feet long.)

3. When spitting, it is forbidden to step outside the painted half-watermelon.

4. The final distance is calculated not by where the seed first lands, but where it ultimately stops.

For Luling (pronounced LOO-ling) residents, watermelon seed spitting is a tradition, so the initiation of the children into this competition was not to be taken lightly.

The mother of 1-year-old Blaine Benbow placed the seed in his mouth, and the boy spit it 5 inches. As each child spit, the crowd, sitting on both sides of the boundary lines on metal bleachers, applauded. They were all winners.

Not so in the adult contest. Many Luling locals thought I'd come to their town to make fun of them for their weird tradition. Hardly. Actually, I was there to steal their pride right out from under their melons. I was already thinking about how to diplomatically turn down their invitation to spit next year as the returning champion.

After the children's contest, I walked the distance from the foul line to the world-record spit mark of 68 feet, 9 1/8th inches, a point on the Spitway commemorated with a line and a watermelon seed sketched out in pencil.

Now I knew my challenge.

I spent the rest of the night spitting watermelon seeds and looking for something to eat. The offerings at a food stand called Fontenot's didn't exactly whet my appetite. The chefs offered the following delicacies served fried on a stick: alligator, rabbit, rattlesnake, frog, shark, and finally, squirrel.

Word Watermelon Seed Spitting Championships
The Pump, the Shox ... they have nothing on these old school Chucks.

Large bag of kettle corn, here I come!

I woke up early in the morning and, to get my blood flowing, ran in the Watermelon Thump 5K. Then I showered at the Dicke residence (thanks for warm water) and set out to get as much advice as I could from past champions.

Karen Easterling won the women's crown in 1999 by spitting a seed 40 feet, 2 inches. She taught me the importance of getting a big breath and said the small tip of the teardrop-shaped seed should be pointing out as it leaves your mouth.

After I'd spit a few seeds with her, I was introduced to Richard Clay Robbins, the 2004 male champion with a seed-spit of 52 feet.

"Make sure you lean back before you blow," Robbins told me.

I asked Robbins to watch my spitting and give me some advice. This led to an informal face-off in which I outdistanced him more than once. My confidence was rising.


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