The big booms over Liberty Bay

"POULSBO - Like enormous magnets, sunny skies and the prospect of good times brought people from all over the nation to Little Norway Tuesday to celebrate on the eve of America's 225th birthday. A crowd of some 45,000 spectators made its way to Poulsbo's waterfront and the surrounding area to watch the sky over Liberty Bay explode with color. The Fireworks on the Fjord didn't disappoint but the finale was simply the topper on what many agree was a perfect day. Dancing, dunking, music and plenty of high-speed chomping served as a welcome prelude to the big show, offering something for everyone while providing hours of family-style entertainment. Traditional Independence Day eating contests were just one of the highlights and had folks of all ages smiling, laughing and, of course, spitting. The annual watermelon seed spitting competition launched onto Anderson Parkway with contestants doing their best to live up to their own high expectorations. Still munching on a triangle of melon after the contest, Mary Jackson was deep in thought about how she had achieved the winning mark of 26'6 to top the field of women. It's shorter than my first year but there was wind, the two-time winner remarked. Although spitters received no such assistance this year, returning champion Mark Morelli didn't seem to take notice. Morelli, who amazed crowds with a Third of July record launch of 47'6 last year, came up about 10 feet shy of his previous mark Tuesday. He still walked away with the win though after spitting his seed 37'5. I came back to defend my title, he explained. They shipped in some California ringers on me, so I had to intimidate them. Morelli said part of his strategy was to let these ringers shoot first. He also credited inspiration from his brother, who came in second place last year. Participants in the Albertson's watermelon, Dairy Queen ice cream and Domino's pizza eating contests relied on different forms of inspiration as they quickly chewed their way to fame and glory. Eat. Eat. Eat, was the chant of the day as kids and adults slurped, bit and licked up their DQ specialties with reckless abandon. Carl Rotter, 72, was the oldest contestant in the ice cream competition but apparently hasn't learned the lessons of brain freeze during his seven decades on the planet. Oh man, this is hard to swallow, Rotter said between bites. This stuff is so cold. Well, it is called ice cream for a reason. Sean McGowan couldn't get enough of the chocolate and vanilla treat and after devouring the treat, he proceeded to lick his plate clean. Red shirts were all the rage during the watermelon eating competition as folks covered themselves in the sweet, sticky juice. We'll have to hose them off, Albertson's manager Steve Stenburg observed. That might have not been a bad idea for 10-year-old Sam Keller, who ate his way his second consecutive title. Keller's winning strategy was so simple it bordered on brilliance. What I do is take really big bites and chew and swallow at the same time, he explained. After taking their tour of duty in the first annual dunk tank, North Kitsap High School students Jacob Freiboth and Mark Sargeant went head-to-head, or rather melon-to-melon in the Albertson's contest. Freiboth, who won his division, explained, I just went in thinking I had to beat my friend here. I have been training for this moment all my life. Sargeant, who chomped his way to a second-place finish, wasn't buying the line though. Look. Look. There's watermelon in his pocket, Sargeant yelled in an attempt to jokingly discredit Freiboth's win. In a strategy possibly meant to blind his opponents during the Domino's pizza eating contest, Mike King of Silverdale removed his shirt. Despite gasps, King defended his decision, stating, I've got a white shirt on. I can't be getting pizza all over it. While certificates and prizes were given to contestants winning and placing in the various eating contests, one award that wasn't handed out should have gone to event co-organizer Mary Graves for having the reddest face. Sunburns were prevalent but didn't keep vast crowds from having a blast during the July 3 festival. Look around. It's terrific and you know... it's going to get even better, event co-organizer Mike Winters said as the day showed its first signs of cooling. When the big booms over the bay lit up the sky, downtown was so packed one practically had to tip-toe to avoid stepping on blankets, towels, food and spectators. I would even venture to say 45,000 were there. The people were so thick you had to inch your way through them, Graves said. In the 12 years I've done this, I have never seen so many people - it was great. "

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