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Generational tradition still alive at Tom Tom Festival

By Camille Doty
June 2, 2012 at 1:02 a.m.
Updated June 3, 2012 at 1:03 a.m.

Devin Chumchal, 12, of Yoakum, attempts to grab his tomato after it fell off of his spoon during a tomato spoon race. Devin and other children also competed in a tomato toss at the event.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Tom Tom festival originated to honor Yoakum's tomato industry from the '20s and '30s. This Festival is one of the oldest in the region.

source:yoakumareachamber.com

YOAKUM - Marshall Fowler plays to win, even if it's a simple game of tomato toss.

The 12-year-old competitor started eyeing the red, round balls to get an advantage.

"I already know which one I want to get," he said as he peaked into the bin.

The sounds of Texas Country blasting through the city park became his anthem. He snapped his fingers to the beat before the game started.

Marshall was crushed when one of the game officials, Connie Zimmerman told him, "You can't pick your own tomato."

His dreams were deferred but not denied. He changed his strategy and enlisted his partner, Kaci Herman, to intimidate the competition.

"You're little," Kaci told one of their opponents. She later gave him a hug and a warm smile.

Kaci shared some advice with her teammate, "You have to cup your hands when you catch it," she said.

The seventh-grader was among 20 players in the first Tomato Toss at the Tom Tom Festival.

For the past 84 years, residents from Yoakum and the surrounding communities have gathered to celebrate the historic event. There were about 300 people attending Saturday afternoon.

The city once served as a stopping point for green, wrapped tomatoes in the '20s and '30s. This year, organizers wanted to add creative ways to celebrate Yoakum's history.

"We were going to do an egg toss, then we decided, 'Let's just do tomatoes,'" said Zimmerman, the chamber chairwoman.

The Yoakum Chamber of Commerce hosted the festival, which contained a salsa contest, rodeos, a talent competition, washer tournaments, Weiner dog races, helicopter rides, parades, and, of course, tomato-related events.

There were also hours of live music throughout the day. Debra Vinklarek remembered how the festival used to be when it had street dances and a sense of familiarity.

"You would walk down the street and know everyone there," she said. "Now it's so many people here from out of town."

The 58-year-old Yoakum native did share laughs with her best friend and sister-in-law. "We've been friends since 1973," said Sheryl Vinklarek. "It's been a long time," Debra Vinklarek said jokingly.

Lynn Hart, of Weimar, a newcomer to the festival, came to help others indulge their sweet tooth. She sold cotton candy to sugar lovers of all ages. The 65-year-old grandmother of four wore the delectable delight on the top of her head.

Hart retired two years ago and travels in the region to attend various festivals. Although she runs a business, the mother of two revels in making others happy.

"Did you see how she smiled at me. That's it," she beamed.

Marshall's mother, Lisa Fowler, was proud of her youngest son. "He's my small-fry," she said.

The mother of three has a personal connection to the Yoakum festival. Her father, Pete Matthew, served as King Tom Tom in 1947.

"There's always been a Tom Tom," said Fowler, who also serves as secretary for the Chamber of Commerce.

Marshall kept his eye on the tomato prize. The little athlete just loved the feeling of participating in the contest. "It's real exhilarating to try not to drop the tomato," he said.

Although Marshall and Kaci had a perfect practice round, they were eliminated from the competition. Marshall dropped the tomato.

Their pint-sized competitor, Bryson, lost at the same time. The tomato juice splashed on his cargo khaki shorts and polo top.

The 4-H friends and teammates, Kaci and Marshall, left the match dry, but next year Marshall will try a new strategy.

"I'm going to try not to get her to throw to me with one hand," he said.

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