March 26, 2007

Maple Fest a sweet success

For many, festival is a rite of spring


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Dan Young, of Vestal, samples a cup of maple syrup as he leaves the Sugar Shack on Lovell Field Saturday during the 37th annual Central New York Maple Festival.

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — Thousands of people flocked to the Central New York Maple Festival over the weekend, some because it is family tradition and others because it marks the start of spring.
Ethanie Holl, a teacher at Appleby Elementary School in Marathon, said her parents were on the committee that started the festival more than 30 years ago.
“I haven’t missed one,” Holl said.
Linda Hessian attended the 37th annual festival with her grown sons, Keith and Scott. Saturday was Keith Hessian’s first visit to the event in 10 years.
“We’ve been coming here since we were (children),” he said. “Not much has changed. It’s nice.”
The festival is a rite of spring, Linda Hessian said.
“It’s the first time you are outside all day in the crisp spring air,” she said.
For 4-year-old Shane Sherwood, it was his first time at the festival with his parents. He was fascinated with the speaking tube in the high school’s Museum of Light and Sound.
“He is having a blast,” said Teresa Sherwood, Shane’s mother.
Taylor Larrabee, 9, said the festival has become synonymous with the “smell of maple syrup and fun stuff.”
For the past 37 years, no matter rain, sun or snow, Marathon has hosted the festival.
Julie Arnold said she and her family have tried to attend the festival in previous years, but the weather kept them home.
Arnold said they started their day at the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.
“It was quite filling,” Arnold said. “They had a lot of people there.”
Ruth-Esther Delavan, who mans the sample booth of maple candy and cream with her husband, Dean, said the best part of the festival is educating people about maple syrup and watching their reactions when they taste a sample.
The sugar shack was in full swing. There was a line with approximately a 5-minute wait to get in.
Maple syrup and cream, funnel cakes, apple dumplings with ice cream and cotton candy all were for sale. Also taking place were a quilting contest and the maple mobile races, in which elementary students rode carts they had built.
In addition to the breakfast, Arnold and her family visited the sugar shack and the quilt contest.
“The quilts are pretty,” said Paige Arnold, 8.
“We do some sewing at home so we are interested,” Arnold said. “We are always interested in what people do.”
Arnold said her favorite quilt at the contest was one in the antique category.
Donna Kinney, a participant in the quilt contest, said that every year she discovers something new at the festival.
“The first year I was here I didn’t know the quilt show actually existed,” Kinney said. “Last year I experienced the pancake breakfast, so we came pretty early and did that. We’ve also ridden the train (between Cortland and Marathon), which was something different.”
Taylor Larrabee, who took part in the maple mobile race, came in first in the lightweight division’s preliminary heat on Saturday and was ready for Sunday’s finals.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “My cart is really fast.” Although Taylor has been to the festival in previous years, Saturday was the first time she tried her hand at the races.
Her friend Bailey McCarty, 9, didn’t participate, but next year she plans to win.
Kiegan Brown, 7, said he enjoyed the maple candy.
“It’s pretty good,” Kiegan said.
For Connie White, chair of the entertainment committee, the annual event has a broader meaning.
“The maple festival is all about the community,” White said. “We understand that every community is an organization doing good work. This was our way of giving back.”



Champ keeps pancake title, breaks record


Champion pancake eater Joe LaRue, right, battles Evan Holl, standing next to him, among others during the annual pancake-eating contest Saturday morning. LaRue won the contest by downing 35 pancakes during the 15-minute contest period. Having won for several years, LaRue is now a professional, earning his living from eating contests.

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — For the sixth time in 11 years, Joe LaRue wolfed down dozens of pancakes to win the pancake-eating contest at the Central New York Maple Festival, setting a record in the process.
LaRue broke the record of 30 pancakes eaten within a 15-minute period, which was set in 2003 by Cincinnatus High School senior Jon Laudig. In 2006, LaRue tied the record, and at this year’s Maple Festival, he broke it with 35 pancakes.
“Joe has blown us all away,” said Connie White, master of ceremonies of the contest. “I can’t imagine 35 pancakes. I really thought when we hit 30 that would be it.”
LaRue and nine other contests devoured 170 pancakes, which raised more than $5,000 to nonprofit groups such as the Peck Memorial Library, The United Methodist Church and the Marathon Christian Academy. Contestants had previously arranged donations made for their efforts.
The contest started at about 9:10 a.m. in the auditorium of Marathon High School when Rachel James, the newly crowned Maple Queen, dropped a bucket, signifying the start of the contest.
Contestants were equipped with four cups of water, syrup and 6-inch pancakes.
They were cheered on by a boisterous crowd, screaming, “Go on Joe,” and holding such signs as one reading, “Devon is the pancake king,” for contestant Devon Hines.
Assemblyman Gary Finch was on hand to aid the contestants by refilling their water cups.
“It was fun,” Finch said. “I enjoy coming down to be part of it because the money that is raised here is used for so many worthy causes.”
LaRue had a clear advantage over all the other contestants. By trade, he is competitive eater. In addition to the Maple Festival record, he holds the national record for eating 34 ears of corn in 12 minutes.
Jordan Lilley was a first-time participant in the pancake-eating contest and he tied for second by eating 21 pancakes. Lilley said he usually makes the pancakes for the event, but this year he decided to compete. He said the view from the competitor’s table was pretty good and he was satisfied with his results.
“I didn’t really pay attention to the crowd. I was trying to concentrate on my own thing,” Lilley said.
Jacob Holl, 19, sat in the front row and cheered on his brother, the youngest competitor in the contest.
“He did awesome,” Holl said of his 13-year-old brother, Evan, who ate nine pancakes “I am proud of him. I was so nervous.”
The method of consumption varied from one participant to another. Some contestants broke the pancakes up into pieces, dunked them into water and then swallowed.
Lilley said his technique was consistent with his practice runs.
“I practiced a few nights before (the contest ),” Lilley said. “I folded the pancakes in half, bit them, then drank a little water and tried to chew fast.”
LaRue, on the other hand, has his method and technique down to a science. He dunked his pancakes in cups of water flavored with maple syrup before eating them.
“I start doing water training,” LaRue said. “I drink a lot of water. I eat oatmeal. Usually I practice with the food, but oatmeal and pancakes are very, very close so I just stuck with oatmeal because that would be a good way for me to get a good volume.” He added that he starts training three weeks before the contest.


McGraw school scrambles to make up for lost federal grant

Staff Reporter

McGRAW — Local school officials are trying to find funds to continue a grant program that gave students from kindergarten through eighth grade a chance to learn outside the regular school day and school year.
A five-year federal 21st Century Community Learning Grant the district received in 2002-03 expires June 30. It gave the district $350,000 annually.
Marcy Klos, project coordinator of the 21st Century grant for McGraw, said districts were told last year that they could apply for more funds. But they recently learned no funds will be available to those districts awarded grants in the first round of funding, including McGraw.
That has left district officials rushing to fill the void.
Klos said there is an effort statewide to convince the Legislature to include $32 million in its 2007-08 budget to continue to fund the districts that would lose federal funds and allow them time to find new funding for future years.
The 21st Century grant was first funded in 2002-03 in conjunction with the No Child Left Behind Act. New York state received $28.9 million the first year, which funded _60 programs. The grant has expanded over the last five years, funding 243 programs with $90.5 million in the 2006-07 school year.
Klos said 370 letters were sent a week ago to each of the area legislators and the governor from students, parents, teachers and local residents. She said a request was made to Congressman Michael Arcuri (D-Utica) to be considered for a legislative member item.
Dylan Thomas, 9, was one of 80 students of the district to write a letter to the governor.
“My name is Dylan and I go to after school,” his letter read, in part. “I think you should not cancel after school because I get my work done so I can play.”
To be eligible for funds under the grant, 40 percent or more of the school’s children must be eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Klos said 50 percent of students in the district are eligible.
Linda Woodward, a state Education Department associate, said the program also undergoes a peer review by school personnel, social worker, or member of a faith-based organization.
The programs are scored on quality, activities proposed in conjunction with the grant and a reasonable budget.
For the 2007-08 school year, Klos said, McGraw would lose funds for such offerings as after-school programs, summer school, parenting programs, family reading and math night and the Banana Spilt program, which helps students deal with the loss of a parent through divorce or death.
“McGraw has never been able to fund these programs before the grant,” said Klos. She said that after-school programs would be limited to children’s parents who could afford after-school care because the school is not in a position fund them.
Kathleen Tavarone, a consultant for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant in McGraw, said, for the 2005-06 school year, 296 students attended one of the 21st Century programs. In that same year, 240 adults in the community participated in one of the 21st Century grant programs and 148 adults took an adult education class.
Area legislators said the district’s request for state funds was not feasible.
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) said President George W. Bush has underfunded the No Child Left Behind Act since its inception.
“They need to write to the federal government,” Lifton said. “These are federal cuts of critical education dollars. He (Bush) is spending $400 billion on the war in Iraq and he can’t fund the No Child Left Behind.”
Both Lifton and Duncan Davie, a spokesman for Sen. James L. Seward (R-Milford), said it is “extremely unlikely” the governor would put funds in the budget after calling the Senate’s budget proposal excessive.
“There is no way we can pick up the tab for the federal program,” Lifton said.
Davie agrees with Lifton.
“New York just can’t backfill every federal program that is cut,” Davie said.
Lifton said some of the McGraw programs that are being cut might be covered under state programs.