NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry Watermelon Festival was back for its 77th annual celebration on Saturday, May 21. The annual festival brought out thousands who enjoyed sweet and juicy watermelon, games and activities for the young and not-so-young alike, and entertainment.
The nation’s longest-running watermelon festival was held at the CountryWay Town Square. The festival featured more than 100 vendors offering items for sale, food and drink, nonprofits sharing information, and politicians promoting their 2022 campaigns. There was also plenty of activities for kids including bounce houses, face painting and pony rides. As in previous years, the free slices of watermelon were popular with the crowd.
The event started at 10 a.m. with a parade in downtown Newberry featuring floats sponsored by local businesses and organizations that included a golf cart decoration contest. At the Country Way Town Center, some 100 vendors lined the streets and at the gazebo, K Country 93.7 FM announced events along with singer and DJ Brandon McFarlan.
The previous week the festival committee had held its annual pageant for naming the annual Newberry Watermelon Queen, teen queen and junior queens. Kensley Catelynn Durrance was crowned the 2022 Newberry Watermelon Queen, Ashlee Thomas was crowned the 2022 Newberry Watermelon Ms. Teen Queen and Laney Grinstead was crowned the 2022 Newberry Watermelon Teen Queen. The Newberry City Commission also awarded Bethany Barfield with a key to the city. Barfield was the Newberry Watermelon Queen in 2019 and then went on to win the Florida Watermelon Queen for 2020-21 before claiming the National Watermelon Queen title.
Watermelon festival traditional events included the popular pet contest featuring four dogs. Link, Duchess, Callie and Ellie Mae won prizes for Best Dressed Boy, Best Dressed Girl, Best Behaved and Best Overall, respectively. There was a hog calling contest and the traditional watermelon seed spitting contest that has been held every year featuring local politicians competing for bragging rights for the longest spit.
Last year, Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr. took the crown from Congresswomen Kat Cammack with a 23-foot mark. The winning marks this year were much farther than Watson's record last year. Daniel Fisher, running for Alachua County School Board, launched a watermelon seed 41 feet. He won the contest with that shot, leaving Newberry City Commissioner Mark Clark in second place with 37 feet.
Newberry’s Watermelon Festival started in 1946 after the end of World War II. A group of local citizens decided to hold a festival celebrating the area’s watermelon production and the Newberry Watermelon Festival was born. The event has now been held yearly on the third Saturday in May.
The festival is organized and produced by a committee of local residents with the support of the city and business sponsors. The actual event is produced with a large group of volunteers, including Police Explorers who help manage traffic and parking. Sponsors provide donations either as cash or in-kind products. The festival also receives additional funds through a $5 parking fee. Some of the money raised funds four $1,000 scholarships for Newberry High School seniors to cover tuition and books to attend Santa Fe College. Any additional money goes to the schools for supplies and to the Red Cross for any local need that arises.
While last year’s festival was smaller due to COVID-19 health concerns, the crowds were back in full this year. Just like its beginning in 1946 after World War II, the festival again brought a sense of community and return to normalcy.
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