McLoud's annual Blackberry Festival and Parade draws crowd

BY BEN LUSCHEN bluschen@opubco.com Modified: July 7, 2012 at 9:33 pm •  Published: July 8, 2012
Advertisement
;

“Nobody wants to pick them anymore,” she said. “They'd be covered in chiggers.”

The town's crop of choice isn't the only thing that's changed since Howard Rooker's youth. The festival's parade has evolved as well.

“I used to like the horses; they'd have at least 150 horses,” he said. “They've modernized now. They don't even have many tractors.”

Past royalty

Another large part of the festival is its annual Blackberry Pageant. Girls ranging from age 4 to 18 compete in different age categories to win the titles of Blackberry Junior Princess, Princess, and Queen.

Various criteria are used to determine the winners, including an interview process, an essay contest and answering a live, onstage question. The girls must also be involved in fundraising events.

Jurrii Barrett, this year's pageant coordinator, won the title of Blackberry Queen in 2007 when she was 14.

“It was a big deal to me and my family, especially since I had lost in 2006. My great-grandmother was also royalty, so it was a big deal to me because I felt like I had tradition in my family.”

Raising money is very important for success in the pageant, but Barrett says getting donations isn't the only thing a potential candidate should worry about.

“It's not all about money. A lot of people think it is, but it's not. They have to pretty much max out all their skills.”

The king of cobbler

Teenagers, men and women alike gathered around a table. They wore trash bag ponchos and their faces were dripping with red berry juice.

Cobbler Gobbler competitors are not allowed to use their hands as they compete to see who could eat the most blackberry cobbler in the allotted time. Contestants ranged in age from 15 to their mid-40s. At the final buzzer it was one of the youngest contestants who reigned supreme.

“I just shoved my face in and went after it, man,” said Dillian Conaway, who won after eating five pieces in five minutes.

Conaway, 16, is a student at McLoud High School. It was his first Cobbler Gobbler and his first time at the Blackberry Festival.

His friend from school, Kyle Trail, 15, asked him to come to event. Trail knew his friend had a chance at the title.

“I've seen him eat before,” Trail said.

While proud of his victory, Conaway said he'll probably enjoy his win more after he recovers.

“Right now I kind of feel like throwing up,” he said.