Over 30 years ago, I yelled my way into the Clinton County Corn Festival as a competitor with the Corn Olympics team from Clinton Memorial Hospital.
I wasn’t athletic enough to carry the team to glory in the obstacle course. That’s a difficult race for the most seasoned athlete. I could help push our team’s stripped-down, lightweight, modified-for-speed hospital bed, but I was better at hanging on for dear life and riding in it.
However, I really shined in the hog call. I’ve always had a creative knack and I’ve never been afraid to make a fool out of myself on stage with a microphone in hand.
Singing and yelling during a Hog-Calling Contest was right up my alley.
The first year I performed a hog call in front of a few thousand people was the year that Corn Olympics host, Gary Kersey, decided to have the contestants do a hog call as either Dolly Pardon or Elvis Presley. I didn’t think I could pull off a Dolly impersonation, so I did Elvis.
I thought it would be easier to transform into the overweight, older Elvis than the young Elvis. With a black wig, wide belt, a huge glittery belt buckle and a wildly modified white scrub suit, the CMH Elvis was ready.
Instead of singing, “Since my baby left me …”, I changed the words to “Since my piggy left me, she’s found a new place to dwell. It’s at the end of Hungry Street at Pork Chop Hotel.”
I cooked up a few more verses and ended the song with a single-breath-prolonged hog call. As an active SCUBA diver and snorkeler, I could hold my breath for over a minute. I used that breath control to end the routine with a long, long hog call. CMH won.
The following year, since it was also the year that Pete Rose was serving time for tax evasion, I decided that it would be interesting to impersonate Pete Rose doing a hog call to his own rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Of course, the version I sang as Pete Rose was considerably different. “Take me out to a ballgame. Get me out of this jail. Buy me some peanuts and bake me a cake. Slip in file so I can make my escape.”
Of course, it all ended with another loud, loud, drawn-out hog call.
CMH won again.
Crazy things happen at the Clinton County Corn Olympics. That’s one of the reasons it’s so much fun.
The real stars are always the enthusiastic Corn Olympians who lay it all on the line to win and to entertain the crowd. Jonathan McKay has done a great job in recent years. He always has something corny to say, which is, after all, what has kept the Corn Olympics such a huge success for over 40 years.
The only time I was really nervous while hosting the show was the year that Mom and Dad drove to Wilmington to see me emcee the Corn Olympics. I felt the pressure was on for me to be funny without embarrassing my folks.
Then, I realized that was impossible, so I decided to get the embarrassment out of the way early and then just enjoy myself. So, I told a story.
Before the first competition, I told everyone that my parents were with us that evening, and that it reminded me of my teenage years when, during church, Mom would sit up in the choir and keep an eye on me while the preacher preached. If I misbehaved, Mom would tug on her left earlobe to let me know that she saw what I was doing and that I was going to be in big trouble when we got home.
Then I announced to everyone, “Please welcome my folks. That’s my Mom sitting up there near the top row. She’s the lovely lady with her left earlobe resting on her shoulder.”
Everyone laughed. Mom was grinning from ear to ear. She then stood up, looked right at me and tugged on her earlobe. Everyone laughed a lot louder. She stole the show.
I was honored to host and emcee the Clinton County Corn Olympics for 10 years. It was always a real group effort with friends and family pitching in to help keep the scores, time the events and keep everything running smoothly. All I had to do was keep talking. Everyone has fun at the Corn Olympics.
The Corn Festival is always held on the weekend after Labor Day. I encourage everyone to stop out and enjoy all that the festival has to offer; great food, friends, games and exhibits.
It is not only a celebration of our agricultural roots, but it is a true celebration of our community – the great people who make Clinton County a wonderful place to call home.
We’ll see you at the festival.
Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.