(Updated at 9:40 a.m. 8-11) There is dirty. And then there is something beyond dirty — nearly theoretical in its sullied scope.
The annual catch-a-pig contest at the Wood County Fair Monday pitted nearly 150 grimy gladiators against 85 grumbling gluttons in a typhoon of muck and bilge that hung in clumps from the participants and occasionally spilled over the fence and onto spectators. The human challengers grasped at stubby legs and launched themselves on top of the walking, snorting melons. And, for their part, the pigs contented themselves with guttural conversation until pressed to defend against a first salvo then scattered with shrieks of indignation to every corner of the pen.
Each group, spanning ages 6-14, took its turn against the fence opposite the hogs with a viscous tract of mud gaping between the warring sides. Then, on command, the contestants launched toward the clump of porkers like a hurtling cue ball before a tremendous rack break in a game of pig pool. Dependably, the pigs went flying. CLICK HERE TO VIEW PHOTO GALLERY
Perhaps 11-year-old Haskins twins Mackenzie and Alexandria Wenig, who each captured a porcine prize, developed the closest thing to a strategy. Alexandria said she planned to go after one of the spotted pigs since her sister had made it known before the contest that she wanted a white one this year. Both veterans of the event, the twins each previously have captured a pig.
Both girls opted for a simple but direct approach to nabbing the slick swine. CLICK HERE TO WATCH FAIR VIDEOS
“I found it, and I squished it,” Mackenzie said. “I jumped on it.”
Alexandra reserved naming her pig until she could get a better look at it, without all that mud.
Shannon Damschroder, 14, of Washington Township, attempted a tackle then grabbed the squirming thing by its legs. After catching at least six pigs at previous fairs, Damschroder said she learned to identify a pig and then stick with it. This was her last try at the event that she has participated in since kindergarten.
Seth Pullins, 9, of Haskins, trapped his prey until it had no choice but to enter his clutches.
“Mostly, what I did was it was in the corner so it couldn’t really go anywhere,” he said. “So I got ahold of its legs, and I ended up laying on the ground and holding its legs.”
Other tactics involved hoisting one of the beasts by the back legs while it kicked like a jackhammer or, in a few instances, reluctantly laying hands on a pig’s back and looking around pleadingly for assistance. Following the pell-mell scramble, the contestants lined up by a nearby pickup truck for their turn in the high-pressure stream of a water hose.
Abby Gase, 6, of Kellogg Road, had watched her brother chase hogs in years past and wanted to nab one for herself this year. But such a task has been made difficult due to the onset of a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome with which she was diagnosed at age 4. Since that time, Gase has learned to walk again and now uses a pair of crutches to help her get around.
However, she too stood in the muck and accepted a special pig of her own that was donated by the Tontogany Independent Order of the Odd Fellows.
Gase said she planned to feed it “pig food” and had not yet decided on a name.
Those who caught pigs will raise them until the first weekend in December, when the winners will return to the fairgrounds to show off their newly-rotund companions in the morning and then sell them that afternoon.
“Whatever they sell them for is theirs,” said Darrel Hentges, chair of the catch-a-pig contest. “All they have to do is take it home and feed it.”
The approximately 2-month-old pigs were purchased by the fair board from Tim Burnside, with I & S Furrer Farms in Indiana. They each weigh about 55 pounds but will begin to gain at a rate of two pounds a day in about a month. By December, they could weigh anywhere from 200-300 pounds.
“Because they’re designed to grow,” said Burnside, himself an Eastwood graduate and a former participant in the contest. “So there could be some big pigs. There could be some 300-pounders if they ... take care of them good.”
After decades of watching the contest, Hentges has seen almost every swine-seizing tactic imaginable. But only one seems to be reliable.
“Jump on them,” he said. “Don’t try to run them down with their legs.”
According to Hentges, nothing beats a good football tackle.
Front page caption: A group of 11 and12-year-old girls look to make the catch. (Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)