MOUNT VERNON – The contestants came to the table neat, orderly, usually smiling. They left defeated; some with brain-freeze, others with stomach aches, all with vanilla ice cream splattered somewhere on their hands or face.
This was the first ever “Ice Cream Eating Championship of Mount Vernon,” hosted by The Joint and Velvet Ice Cream at this year’s Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival. Family members and curious spectators packed the east end of Public Square on Friday afternoon to witness the merciless devouring of America’s favorite summertime dessert.
GALLERY: 2019 Ice Cream Eating Championship of Mount Vernon
Community members of all ages participated in the first annual "Ice Cream Eating Championship of Mount Vernon" at the Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival on Friday afternoon. The contest was broken up into five age divisions, and it was capped off by a 'Local Celebrity' competition. The event was made possible through a collaborative effort between The Joint and Velvet Ice Cream.
Participants were split up into age groups (years 5-8, 9-12, 13-15, 16-20 and 21-plus) and the event was capped off by a ‘Local Celebrity’ contest, which featured community leaders from all sectors. Contestants were given a spoon and as many pints of vanilla Velvet ice cream as they could finish in a set period of time.
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis served as the judge; when time was up, he would meander from chair to chair, closely examining the progress of each contestant before announcing a winner. The winners received a special prize pack from The Joint and Velvet – along with the pride of having outlasted their counterparts.
It got competitive. And sticky. And numbingly cold.
The first champion, in the 5-to-8-year-old age bracket, was Mount Vernon’s Jase Shirley. Despite suffering noticeable anguish midway through the minute-long contest – “it brain-freezed me,” he said of the ice cream – the Twin Oak second-grader overcame the pain and won easily. His goal was to finish half of his pint, and he appeared to have come close.
Shirley’s mother said afterward that Jase is an “ice cream eating machine,” as he typically finishes his cone first and then helps finish others. When she saw there would be an ice cream eating contest in Mount Vernon this weekend, she had to sign him up.
“I work over at The Joint and I seen that, and I’m like, ‘Trish, I gotta be off for this,’’ she said, “‘because Jase can win this thing.’”
After Camden Pletcher won the 9-to-11-year-old group by a close margin, gulping down half a pint in two minutes, the stakes got bigger. There were no participants in the 13-to-15-year-old class, so the 16-to-20-year-olds took the stage.
Noah Brown sat in the middle, flanked by two competitors to his left and two to his right. Unbeknownst to his opponents, Brown has a history in competitive eating. It paid off on Friday afternoon.
Brown smashed a pint-and-a-half in just two-and-a-half minutes. And he probably could have gone for longer; after he won, he took the rest of his unfinished ice cream with him.
Brown, who graduated from Clear Fork High School this spring and plans to attend Ashland University in the fall, said he has participated in eating contests for years now. He recently competed in the state fair’s ice cream eating contest, and he has also eaten pancakes and hamburgers competitively.
Brown was inspired at a young age by ‘Man vs. Food,’ the popular Travel Channel show where host Adam Richman travels the country, taking on unfathomable food challenges. Brown liked the show, and he also liked the sense of accomplishment he got from winning (curiously enough, he was also a state-qualifying tennis player for the Colts last year).
“I’ve done a lot of food challenges, and I saw this on Facebook and I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m definitely doing this,’” he said of the Mount Vernon contest. “I’m local, so I might as well.”
As dedicated as Brown is to the craft of competitive eating, he couldn’t find the words to explain what separates the good from the great. His strategy on Friday was simple:
“Just chow down and hope it all goes down, and you don’t see it again.”
The winner of the 21-and-over division shared a similar mindset. He also happened to be a competitive eater.
Fredericktown’s Jamie Mizer, 37, beat five other contestants by knocking out three-plus pints in four minutes. As he walked away from the stage with his prize pack, he continued to devour pint No. 4.
“Two minutes, it starts to hit you,” he said of the challenge. “It gets solid, you have to chew it. That’s when it starts to get the brain freezing part. It’s not too bad, I’m used to it.”
Since the age of 5, Mizer has participated in the ice cream eating contest at the Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival, which The Joint owner David Stein credited for the inspiration behind Mount Vernon’s contest. There, Mizer competes alongside professionals. He once inhaled almost six pints in three minutes at the festival, he said, where the ice cream is softer and therefore easier to eat quickly.
While Mizer could not attend Utica’s festival this year, he was pleased to take part in Mount Vernon’s first competition.
“I would do it again,” he said afterwards, smiling as ice cream dripped from his beard.
The most laughable moment Friday came during the final competition, reserved for local ‘celebrities.’ It consisted of Anthony McNeal (Knox County Chamber of Commerce), Paul McNeal (Mount Vernon Nazarene University), Danny Gum (Knox Partnership for Arts and Culture), Trina Trainor (Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival), Bob Boss (First-Knox National Bank), Jeff Scott (Knox Community Hospital), David Stein (The Joint), Trevor Williams (Mount Vernon Fire Department) and Bruce Jacklin (MTVarts).
Contestants had three minutes to scarf down as many pints as possible. It came down to Scott and Jacklin, who both devoured one pint quickly before dragging to the finish line.
When Mavis made his rounds and signaled Scott the winner, Knox Community Hospital’s marketing director threw his hands in the air in celebration.
“It was pretty cold,” he said afterwards, rubbing his hands against his jaw to try to regain feeling. “I watched the guy do the one in the group before us, I don’t know how that happens. I was chewing it as fast as I could and I just tried to ignore the pain. But now I can still feel it in my jaw, it’s freezing.”
While Scott said this was his first ice cream eating contest – “I’m not an eater,” he admitted – he seemed proud of the fact he won, and maybe a little relieved the contest was over. Scott felt the first-year event resonated well with the community.
“I just think it’s great that guys like Dave [Stein] and some of the other local establishments, like Velvet, get involved and just create an atmosphere that’s fun to be around,” Scott said. “My kids have fun at this thing every year and it’s extra fun this year, they get to watch me make a fool of myself. It’s a good time.”
Stein seemed pleased with the turnout Friday. It turns out, people will show up to watch – and participate in – such an event in Mount Vernon. Stein implied he’d like to run it back.
“It was a new idea,” he told the crowd afterwards. “Hopefully we spread the word and we’re going to make this an annual event, each year at the Dan Emmett Festival.”