As contestants took the starting line, the crowd grew eager. Amber Cooley gripped the start flag. It was intense being so close to athletes, even if the athletes were pigs. "It’s very competitive out here in Arlington — little did we know," she said afterwards.
It wasn’t the most serious competition, but it was serious fun for Cooley and dozens of others who gathered for the Sue Wee Pig Races, a perennial favorite at the Arlington County Fair, which took place this weekend at Thomas Jefferson Middle School and Community Center.
In addition to the pig races, the fair featured carnival rides, games, musical and dance entertainment, displays from area businesses and community organizations, competitive exhibits and plenty of food.
From funnel cakes to ice cream, residents sampled the best in carnival cuisine. "We don’t eat like this all the time, so it’s nice to get something fatty," said local resident Jackie Angelelli.
But as piglets tore around the sawdust track on the midway, it was the competitive spirit that created the fun for some local residents. "It’s intense out there, thanks to the starter getting them going," said Robert Cooley, Amber’s husband. "It’s a tough job."
COMPETITION CAPUTURED the interest of adults and children alike. Angel Fujimoto-Meagh took a grand champion award for her fine porcelain pottery, which she showed in the adult age group of the fair’s competitive exhibits. "I was shocked," she said. "I’ve never won anything before."
Fujimoto-Meagh practices her craft at the open studio at TJ. Barb Cline, who runs the studio, wasn’t surprised by her success. "She’s got great talent, great ideas and great hands," Cline said.
The judged exhibits covered many disciplines, like crafts, agriculture and fine art produced by county residents. But other contests at the fair recognized some of the more obscure talents.
The Arlington Jaycees sponsored eating contests throughout the day Saturday, where contestants in various age groups struggled to put away Twinkies or Armand’s pizza as fast as possible.
After giving his all in the under-five Twinkies category, 2-year-old Gus Nathanson grinned. "I had to eat the last couple bites, but he ate with vigor, and even clapped for the winner," said his mother Kirsten.
Taking blue ribbon in the pizza-eating contest, Justin Moore, 6, made the most of his next-to-last week before enrolling in first grade at Arlington Traditional School. He entered confident in his strategy: "I chewed very, very fast, and I swallowed fast."
FOR ANIMAL LOVERS, the pig races weren’t the only entertainment. "I’m partial to the bunnies," said 26-year-old Kari Footland at the fair’s petting zoo. Footland spent part of the fair handing out political brochures but still found time for fun. "It’s a great community event that brings us all together," she said.
For some, the traditional fair was a welcome change of pace from Arlington’s increasingly urban lifestyle. "Being a young professional in this area, you don’t get a chance to be a part of the rest of life here," said Danette Wolpert.
Footland wasn’t the only one with politics on her mind at the fair. Democratic and Republican candidates were out in force, as were current county officials. "There’s no other event in Arlington that allows you to see this many people in this short a period of time," said County Manager Ron Carlee.
MANY MADE the event a family affair. "We wanted somewhere for the kids to play," said Anne Sanusi, as she watched Hakeem, 8, and Habibah, 3, run between carnival rides.
"It was very fast—I like fast rides," said Hakeem as he planned which attraction to visit next. The rides didn’t scare off his father, Hakeem Sanusi Sr., who said the best parts of the fair were "the rides, the children’s excitement."
Every year for nearly two decades, Alexandria resident Barbara Brenman has come back to the fair. "It’s fun," she said. "I come back to see the things I recognize from before, and I come to see something new. I come to see old friends. And of course there’s the polish sausage."
Some, like Brenman, have made the fair an annual tradition. Back at the pig races, Amber Cooley marveled at her first experience at the county fair. "We didn’t know how great it was. Now we know," she said. "We’ll be back every year."