Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce President Meredith Caddell accepts a framed proclamation from Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap proclaiming every third Saturday in September to be "World Champion Hopkins County Stew Contest Day." Both Millsap and Sulphur Springs Mayor Oscar Aguilar issued the proclamations recognizing the importance of the stew contest.
Staff Photo By Jessica Worth

What's Cookin'? World Champion Hopkins County Stew, of course, and plenty of it at Saturday's 38th annual contest

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

Sept. 18, 2008 - The World Champion Hopkins County Stew Contest is serious business for true Hopkins County residents, and has been for 38 years.

To show just how important the contest is to the local culture, city and county officials Thursday from the courthouse steps announced that the third Saturday in September will from now on be designated Hopkins County Stew Contest Day.

Also, to make the Chamber of Commerce sponsored-contest as convenient and stress free as possible, a few small adjustments are being made this year.

For those who don't like the tedious task of finding a parking space as close to the fairgrounds as possible, then still having to walk for what seems like a mile to get to the festival, a trolley will be available. Beginning at approximately 8 a.m. Saturday, and continuing about every 30 minutes afterward, the bus will pick up people in the VF Outlet Mall parking lot and on the downtown square and transport them to the fair grounds. The trolly will continue until about 4 p.m. Saturday, according to Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce President Meredith Caddell.

To make the trek to the food tent a bit easier for senior citizens, disabled individuals and others with special needs, a tent is being set up near the Chamber of Commerce parking lot. Handicap parking will be at the Southwest Dairy Center, so they will only have to walk or wheel across the parking lot directly to the tent.

Tickets for all you can eat of the annual stew entries can be purchased in advance at Alliance, City National, Guaranty Bond and Pilgrim banks, as well as at the Chamber office, through Friday. The advance price will be $5, the same as on stew day, but will save fair-goers from having to stand in line to get a ticket. Those who want to wait until Saturday can get a ticket beginning at 9 a.m. at the designated food tent or ticket sales booth. Service tents will open at 10:45 a.m. Saturday to begin handing out bowls and fixings like cheese and crackers.

To help people find the stew sites of friends and family, the Chamber will be offering cook site maps at the information booth. Stew cooks' names will be listed alphabetically by the cook's first name, just in case you can't remember their last names. There will also be a map posted on the stew camp grounds so people can stop by and find their favorite teams.

Stew contest winners will be announced, usually during the noon hour, by Ryan Wright. Quarts of the winning stews will also be auctioned to the high bidder Saturday following the announcement of the winners.

OPTIONAL TRIM

This year's stew contest could be the biggest and best ever. The consensus last year was that the 2007 contest drew the largest crowd in the competition's history -- perhaps as many as 10,000.

The stew contest was started in 1970 by the late Rod Henderson, the longtime manager of the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center, when 12 cooking teams competed in front the old National Guard Armory on the south side of Buford Park.

When Elliott took over the contest in 1992, the number of entries had risen to 50, and slowly increased every year, reaching a record last year.

It became evident just how big the crowd was in 2007 when teams began doling out stew to Fall Festival goers. First, they ran out of spoons and had to borrow more from the Southwest Dairy Center next door. A decision was made just after noon to stop selling tickets when they ran out of bowls. Luckily, more were found, and the ticket sales went on as planned.

"We fed at least 5,000 people, and there's probably twice that many here who didn't eat," said former Chamber President Bill Elliot after last year's contest.

Elliott retired in May, so this is Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce President Meredith Caddell first year in charge of the contest, and she's already seen one record fall. Two cooking teams that signed up Tuesday pushed the total number of entries to a whopping 134.

"That's about 11 or 12 above what we've ever had before," Caddell said. "We're so excited about this year's stew contest. They can still sign up if they want to, but time is getting near. We just invite everyone to come out and have a bowl -- or bowls, as I like to say -- of stew."

And Caddell doesn't plan on running out of bowls, spoons or anything else.

"We ordered 1,000 more of everything," she said.

Also being sponsored by the Chamber Saturday is the Great american Duck Race, which will take place around 12:30 p.m. -- immediately following the announcement of stew winners -- in the small creek running through the fair grounds just left of the Civic Center. Ducks can be purchased for $5 a piece or 5 ducks for $20 at any local business with a duck race display, at the Chamber or at the Fall Festival Saturday morning. The ducks will be dumped in the creek, and a $500 prize awarded to the duck finishing first, $200 to the second place duck, $100 to the third place duck and $50 to the lame duck.

-- News-Telegram Managing Editor Bruce Alsobook contributed to this article

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