In one Carroll 4-H Fair competition, every team pulls its load


WESTMINSTER -- Jacqlynn Houck pointed to her team as it took the field. Pete looked proud as he passed the crowd, but his teammate Patty seemed less confident.

"Look at Pete. He's always holding his head up," said Jacqlynn, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at New Windsor Middle School. "Now we could only get Patty to do that, the team would look so much better."

It could have been Barcelona, with a blanketing haze of heat covering the spectators gathered to cheer their favorite team to victory.

But the athletes weren't going to pull a gold out of this competition. They would pull a stone -- several 500-pound stones, to be exact.

The mule-pull contest brought out seven teams and more than 500 people during the second day of the Carroll County 4-H Fair. Onlookers put down blankets and set up lawn chairs on the incline above the ring to see which pair of animals would go on to glory by dragging the most weight continuously for 12 feet.

"It's always fun," said Heather Black, 10, a friend of Jacqlynn. "I hope Pete and Patty win."

Stephanie Linthicum, 9, agreed. She had gone for rides on a tire that was chained to the team as they went through the fields, so she knew they could pull when they wanted to.

"They're real strong," said Stephanie. "They could pull us all on a tire, probably."

Pete and Patty had a lot of competition in their quest for the coveted blue ribbon and $125 check for first place. Five of the seven teams in the contest were in their category, the heavyweight division.

The teams had to stay within a 6-foot lane while pulling a sled 12 feet without stopping. Each team was given three attempts, with teams failing to do the job being eliminated.

Aside from Pete and Patty, Bud Lentzner of Union Bridge, Jacqlynn's stepfather, entered Dusty and Queenie, a lightweight division team. At a combined weight of 1,080 pounds, they were the lightest pair in a contest that boasted a team weighing 2,610 pounds.

"Dusty and Queenie are small, but they are fat," Jacqlynn said. "If you didn't know better, you'd swear they were pregnant."

Being able to reproduce may have been beyond them, but winning wasn't. The little guys came out on top, amid cheers and whistles from a crowd that pulled with them as they dragged the sled laden with 1,200 pounds -- 120 pounds more than their combined weight.

When Mr. Lentzner's tiny heroes were led off the field after failing to pull a sled weighted with 1,500 pounds the full distance -- they could manage only about 5 feet -- the crowd erupted with applause, as if thanking an exiting pitcher for performing well in the early innings of a baseball game.

"They always win," said Jacqlynn of the lightweight team. "Every year we bring them and nobody pulls more. They are small, but they are strong."

Pete and Patty didn't have the luck -- or strength -- proportional to their smaller counterparts. They came in fifth when they faltered in the seventh round at 2,000 pounds.

But Sonny Burdette's Katie and Cal and Cindy Sayler's Blackjack and Midnight continued on in a battle of wills. By the end of the night, Ms. Sayler's team took second place and $100 after pulling 2,500 pounds successfully.

Mr. Burdette's team, whose effort he dedicated to the memory of their previous owner, who died recently, pulled 2,700 pounds the full distance to win the event.

Even though her heavyweights didn't win, Jacqlynn said her family wouldn't mind taking fifth place. All of the contestants received a ribbon and monetary prize -- third place receiving $75 and every place below that receiving $50.

She also said she knows the mules will be back. And she'll be there pulling for them -- in spirit.

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