Not many people would’ve cared if the grits eating contest was canceled.
It has never been the main attraction of the three-day World Grits Festival in St. George. Most are drawn to the grits rolling contest, during which competitors submerge themselves in an inflatable pool of instant grits and try to collect the most grits in their clothes. The record is 66 pounds.
That’s what brought Jon Ashton, the British chef and TV personality, and his film crew to town over the weekend.
But Tim McCoskey drove 30 miles from his home in Elloree on Saturday afternoon for the grits eating contest. His sister planned to compete again too.
“We have a sibling rivalry going,” he said. “She thinks she has a chance of beating me.”
They were both bummed when a festival committee member quietly announced the contest wasn’t happening because the woman in charge of it was sick.
He didn't want to leave, though, in case they changed their minds. So, he lingered outside the festival's main office. And while he waited, he talked.
He talked about his grits-eating strategy, which has won him a first place trophy for the past six years. It involves using a spoon to scoop the plain grits to one side of the bowl and, when the contest starts, not looking around.
“You can’t have any distractions,” he said. “You have to constantly look down at what you're doing. You won’t see my head turn from side-to-side."
McCoskey, a Marine Corps veteran and construction worker, flipped through his phone and found a blurry video from last year’s grits eating contest. His daughter filmed it and her fingers sometimes covered the lens while she clapped and yelled, “Go dad!” over and over.
He continued to turn to strangers to make light conversation, which is the sort of thing that's normal at the World Grits Festival, said committee member Cassandra Francis.
"St. George is a town of friendly people," she said, reciting the town's motto.
Francis said more than 500 people typically attend the festival, which features carnival rides, more than one funnel cake vendor, live gospel music and a wheelbarrow race.
On Saturday, Francis met attendees who traveled from New York and California to St. George, a town with a population of about 2,000 people. One attendee from New Jersey found out about the event after she saw someone wearing a World Grits Festival T-shirt on an airplane.
“They come from all over,” she said. “It’s amazing to see.”
She offered her theory for why people come from afar.
“They want to see people rolling in the grits,” she said. "It's something you don't see anywhere else."
Amelia Daniels, 30, who lives in Walterboro, has come to the festival each year since she was 5. Same goes for the annual Colleton County Rice Festival, which is set for April 26-27 in her hometown.
“We come for all of the good people and all of the good food,” she said. "It's a feel-good thing."
McCoskey made it no secret why he was there: He wanted to defend his title.
And, after waiting, he got his shot. Organizers decided to host the grits eating contest, just an hour behind schedule.
"We had more people interested in it than we thought," Francis said.
When McCoskey won, his face was covered with a big smile. It was the look of a man who could use a small victory.
“Today is a bright spot,” he said. “I'm happy.”
His sister was just a second or two from beating him.
"She's got a few second place trophies," he said. "I don't know what those are like."
For more info on the World Grits Festival, visit www.worldgritsfestival.com.