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PRAIRIE DU SAC - Standing around a wagon filled to the brim with dried cow chips, competitors of all skill levels took their time looking for the perfect specimen that would fly the furthest on the field.

First-timers competing in the 43rd annual Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw over the Labor Day weekend, dubiously eye-balled the sun-dried specimens. Some opted for Frisbee-sized cow patties while more seasoned competitors searched for smaller, more dense chips still meeting the minimum 6-inch diameter requirement.

"It's all about selecting a good chip," said volunteer Bruce Langley. "You want something compact and relatively flat that will stay together and sail straight. They say licking your fingers helps to get a better grip!"

We did it

The idea for hosting the quirky festival was born 43 years ago when a member of the Prairie du Sac Jaycees told fellow board members about a world cow chip throwing contest he had read about in a magazine.

"We thought to ourselves, we could do that and we did," said Del Klinkner.

The festival started out modestly at the city's ball park, and continued to grow, forcing founders to relocate it to Marion Park, three blocks away from the banks of the Wisconsin River.

Today, the two-day festival held on the Friday and Saturday over Labor Day weekend draws upwards of 40,000 visitors. In addition to flinging dried cattle dung, the festival boasts an arts and crafts fair with over 120 vendors, an impressive food court staffed by local service organizations and youth groups, a beer garden, non-stop entertainment on two stages, a kids play area and tractor pedal pull and the Tournament of Chips parade that sports a huge Trojan horse-sized cow — aptly named Cowabunga — that emits genuine cows chips scooped up into a wheelbarrow trailing behind the statuesque bovine.

"It really take a community and plenty of volunteers to make this happen," Klinkner said.

Some of those volunteers include a farm family who 'donates' hundreds of cow chips to the festival each year. In July, a group of volunteers head out to the farm and collect the crop of 'meadow muffins' that are subsequently laid out in the afternoon sun to dry over the summer.

All over the place

For nearly three hours, despite a late afternoon rain storm, more than 200 men and women walked bravely to the white foul line and chucked the hardened cow pies into the air — mpst landing a respectable distance and others, at times, breaking into pieces or sailing into the crowd of nearly 400 enthusiastic spectators.

Contestants for the event came from all over the United States and some from overseas including Portugal, Guatemala and the Netherlands.

Sun Prairie resident Erik Hatch brought friends from all corners of the country to this year's event, including Preston Redd of Arlington, VA.

"It definitely has a Midwestern flavor to the event," Redd said with a laugh. "I'm just eager to find out how far I can throw this thing."

Turns out Redd didn't do too bad for his first outing, placing sixth in the men's division and only one of two Top 10 finishers not hailing from the Badger State. Sauk County residents seemed to have the real advantage with having the festival right in their own backyard.

Five-time women's champion Liz Wood grew up watching her mother compete in the contest. She credits her experience in softball for registering impressive throws including this year's 111.8 foot effort that landed her at the top of the leader board.

"I modified my throw using some of those techniques," Wood said. "I also look for a heavier chip to get more distance."

Competitors have the opportunity to throw two chips into the playing field. The distance of the furthest in-bounds chip is recorded by uniformed referees overseeing the contest on the V-shaped field using cutting-edge laser guided surveying equipment. Those landing in the Top Ten of their respective divisions returned to throw two additional chips to determine the winners.

But for most competitors, staying in bounds was good enough.

"I just hope my mom doesn't  doesn't hit anyone," said Hailey Shaske of Eau Claire.

And for Helena Levin of San Francisco and her pals, Mandy Ma, Honey Pak and Irene Yeun, it wasn't about distance but style.

"We might not throw very far but we're the best-dressed," she said with a smile, showing off her fringed, red high heels and cowgirl get up.

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Top 10 finishers

Men's

1. Dakota Johnson, North Freedom, WI - 165.7'

2. Chris Schuerell, Blaine, MN - 154.7'

3. Joe Breunig, Sauk City, WI - 149.8'

4. Nick Rassmusen, Janesville, WI - 146.4' *

5. Jordan Powers, Belleville, WI - 140'

6. Preston Redd, Arlington, VA - 132.7'

7. Greg Livingston, Madison, WI - 131.5'

8. Preston Gamroth, Eau Claire, WI - 122'

9. Curtis Floyd, Sun Prairie, WI - 104.4' *

10. Chris Shaske, Eau Claire, WI - 96'

Women's

1. Liz Wood, Sauk City, WI - 111.8' *

2. Claire Curley, Madison, WI - 90.7' *

3. Terry Stramowski, Slinger, WI - 85.4' *

4. Rachael Klepper, Prairie du Sac, WI - 84.4'

5. Nicole Bruecker, Madison, WI - 84.3'

6. Beth Varley, Brooklyn, WI - 74.7'

7. Abby Schroeder, Prairie du Sac, WI - 73'

8. Jessica Phillips, Slinger, WI - 49.6'

9. Jill Wallschlaeger, Slinger, WI - 49.4'

10. Nikki Klepper, Prairie du Sac, WI - 49.1' *

* - former champions

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