ST. GEORGE - It was countdown to showdown, almost time for 10 youngsters ages 10 to 14 to face off in the marquee 'Rolling in the Grits' contest.
They'd each try their luck in a kiddie pool full of instant grits, hoping to get the most pounds of gooey grains to stick to their clothes. At stake were cash prizes and a year's worth of bragging rights.
But the 23rd annual World Grits Festival contest wasn't all fun and games for at least two rival competitors.
Last year, Laura Grimsley, 12, of St. George won second place in her age group. This year, she wouldn't settle for anything less than the top prize. How'd she know she'd place first? 'Because I'm good,' she said, and then quickly added, 'Because it's me.'
Laura wore four shirts and baggy sweatpants tucked in tube socks to sop up as much grits as she could. Duct tape was wrapped around her wrists and ankles to help keep the icky grains from oozing out from her clothes.
Asked about her technique, Laura started to describe how her wardrobe would work to her advantage until 10-year-old Brandan Evans of Summerville butted in.
'You're giving away your strategy,' Brandan warned.
Laura giggled, rolled her eyes and kept talking.
Last year, Brandan won first place in the younger kids' division for those ages 5 to 9. A year older, with a notch already on his belt, Brandan was looking to reign in the older kids' league. 'If I win this year,' he said, 'I'll have a hot streak going.'
But first he'd have to get past Laura. 'I could not even sleep last night,' she said. 'I only get to do this once a year.'
As the competitors lined up near the kiddie pool of grits, Brandan grappled with his nerves.
'I can't even feel my spine,' he said. 'I'm so nervous.'
Brandan was up first. His cheeks flush, he stepped into the pool of grits, hitched up his Army fatigue pants and crouched over, waiting for the signal to start.
On cue, he dove into the grits, rolled around until he was completely covered and then stuffed handfuls of grits down his underclothes. Just before his time ended, he scooped globs of grits onto this T-shirt and tucked the bottom of the shirt under his chin, leaving a hanging pouch of grits.
The rules say his hands had to be free. He used his chin as a substitute. The extra weight helped Brandan pick up 28 pounds of grits.
Laura had met her match. When it was her turn, she leaped in the pool and squirmed and twisted until her face, hair and entire body was covered in grits. She stuffed some of the grains down her layers of shirts, too.
Laura beat Brandan by a single pound, putting an end to their rivalry.
The two competitors gave each other high-fives and washed up, both confident that they had secured the first and second spots.
'We're getting down to the nitty-gritty, aren't we?' Brandan said.
Then, the shocker: Two newcomers beat out both Laura and Brandan. They were Sierra Hilton and Shelby Scott, weighing in at 32 and 30 pounds, respectively.
'Oh man!' Laura exclaimed when the winners were announced. She settled for third.
Brandan didn't rank, but he said he enjoyed himself nonetheless. He likes competing for the fun and not so much for the cash prizes, he said, adding, 'But the money's nice, don't get me wrong.'
Reach Tenisha Waldo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5744.