Cue the “Chariots of Fire” theme.
A newbie beat out a gourd-growing veteran for first place in the Kansas State Fair largest watermelon competition. And this underdog was competing on his very last melon.
Calvin Beeson, Clyde, broke the Kansas State Fair record with his 198-pound watermelon.
The second place melon came in just short at 197 pounds, but don’t feel too sorry for the runner-up -- Tony Prochaska won the largest pumpkin contest.
“He’s a good grower; hats off to that guy. He’s done a heck of a job the past few years,” Beeson said. “We’re kind of head-to-head here. We’re not mean, but it’s pretty competitive.”
As both are Cloud County residents, they both regularly attend the Clyde Watermelon Festival over Labor Day weekend.
Out of five vines planted this year, only two of Beeson’s survived through June. He took one, a 178-pounder, to the watermelon festival but it didn’t last long enough for the fair. Luckily for Beeson, and unfortunately for Prochaska, the fifth and final melon kept growing.
“They told me they were done on Facebook after the festival, then I saw on Facebook that they had one left. I thought, ‘Oh you guys.’ They pulled one over on me,” Prochaska laughed. “I got over it after that day. I still have the pumpkin, plus I still have a few for competition.”
Prochaska’s 841-pound pumpkin took first place this year, and it’s the third largest pumpkin ever entered in the fair. The biggest, grown by Donovan Mader in 2015, weighed 1,034 pounds. The second-biggest came in at 976 pounds and was grown by Brian Stanley in 2007.
“I’m kind of going back and forth with Donovan,” Prochaska said. “That next year I won, last year he won, then I won this year. We’re kind of dominating the field there. We get along really good, talk about techniques. I have a couple guys we go back and forth with.”
Beeson has no plans to join the pumpkin competition rivalry. He’s only been growing watermelons for four years, and giant watermelons for one, but he has the right foundation.
“When I first started this, I bought a farm and my plan was to grow for my family. Steve James suggested we grow for giants because we have a good sandy soil. In 2014, I grew a 140-pounder. Then I got married, and we have kids now so I didn’t have time,” Beeson said.
For both, growing giants is a family affair.
Prochaska’s 7-year-old son Jacob previously held the record for the largest watermelon at 187 pounds. Beeson’s children are also getting involved.
“Our little 2-year-old walks up to to the watermelon and rubs it and tells it to grow bigger,” Beeson laughed. “Our oldest is starting 4-H so I’ll help her with that. She helps with what I have now, but she’ll start her own projects.”
Prochaska is happy to stick with pumpkins -- there’s more prize money in competitions around the region, and the positive attention is a plus.
“It turns a lot of heads along the way, that’s for sure,” Prochaska said of traveling with a giant pumpkin. “People will pass me, then back off a little bit and then here comes the camera.”
Beeson is hopeful for the future -- he plans to break the state record of 200 pounds.
“I’m stretching for 250 next year. I think we have a good chance,” Beeson said. “It was fun: there’s something to shoot for next year.”
The giant pumpkin and watermelon are on display at in the Pride of Kansas Building.