Tomboy Sawyer Contest a bubble-blowing, slingshot shooting, watermelon seed-spitting good time for all

Since 1976, girls between the ages of 10 and 12 have been able to unleash their inner tomboy with contests like blowing bubblegum bubbles, spitting watermelon seeds and fishing for minnows.

Jana Suchland came up with the concept as an alternative to the only other competition that was available to girls at the time — Becky Thatcher in the Tom and Becky program. During the Tomboy Sawyer Contest — hosted by the Missouri Business Women, Hannibal Chapter — each of the seven girls smiled and talked with one another as they participated in the gunnysack race, target practice with slingshots, watermelon seed spitting, minnow fishing and bubblegum bubble blowing. Suchland recalled how the program's beginnings offered a special opportunity for girls that hadn't existed before.

“When we started this, the only thing for girls was Becky,” Suchland said. “And since we're a women's club, we thought there's more than one style for women — we're not all Beckys. Tomboy was what they called them, and it fit perfect with 'Tomboy Sawyer.'”

Suchland said that the activities were geared to be “things girls weren't supposed to do,” and volunteers experimented with a few different contests over the years. Consistently popular favorites are the bubblegum blowing contest, the watermelon seed spitting contest and minnow fishing.

Jessica Strode, 11, said she was excited for her first opportunity to participate in the contest, and she had been practicing for a few days for her favorite competition, minnow fishing. She said she was happy for the opportunity to share the experience with every one who took part.

“I'm going to be happy for whoever wins,” she said with a smile.

Her mother, Christina Strode, said the day was a great opportunity for her daughter.

“I was excited for her,” she said. “We lived here our whole lives, and she thought it would be fun to come out and try something this year.”

“If I don't win this year, I have another year,” Jessica said.

Each girl received a certificate and a t-shirt, and there were several award winners who received ribbons from judges like Official Tom Sawyer Michael Hark, Becky Thatcher Macy Walden, Miss Route 66 Outstanding Teen Mallory Sublette.

10-year-old Gracelyn Nielson said she had been practicing her slingshot skills, and she was accompanied by her mother and former Becky Thatcher ambassador Sarah Nielson. Gracelyn said she felt a little nervous, but she was eager to join in all the contests.

“I'm really exited about doing the shooting with the slingshot,” she said.

Myley Hubbard said the historic aspect of the activities made the experience special, too.

“I'm excited, and I think it's cool it's cool I get to do something based off a book,” she said.

Michael Hark agreed.

“I think it's really neat to be out here and see all the people,” he said.

Miss Route 66 Outstanding Teen Mallory Sublette said the contest was a great way to get back to nature and socialize without technology.

“It's good to see teenagers and tweens get off their phones, come outside and be active and do something like this,” she said.

After all the seeds were spit, the minnows were gathered and the bubbles popped, the winners were announced.

Sophia Vandiver won first place in the costume category and in minnow catching, Alana Lemon won top honors in bubblegum blowing, Lauren Highfill won first place in watermelon seed spitting and slingshot shooting and Aubrielle Krigbaum won the blue ribbon in the gunnysack race. Overall winners were Lauren Highfill, first place; Elyse Rapp, second place; and Savannah Corey, third place.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald.courierpost.com