When Ryan Barlow heard about a contest at his school that asked students to guess the weight of a large pumpkin, he decided on a number almost immediately.
Ryan, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Wakefield Forest Elementary, guessed 327 pounds. The range of other students’ guesses were from zero all the way up to 10,000 pounds, but Ryan’s was right on the dot. When asked about the science of guessing the pumpkin’s weight, he revealed the secret to his accuracy.
“I guessed it before I even saw the pumpkin,” said Ryan, smiling.
Dr. John Paul Forest, a dentist with offices less than 100 feet from the school, began growing pumpkins in his garden about six years ago. Each year, the pumpkins have flourished more than the year before, with this year’s 327-pounder weighing in as his largest ever.
“It started off at 66.6 pounds six years ago,” said Pat Coates, who works in Forest’s office.
Forest, 76, remembers the first winner of the contest as if it were yesterday. His eyes lit up when he spoke of the girl who won. When he asked her how she guessed the magic number, he remembers the girl telling him that she had seen it in her dreams.
Forest said he thinks he's been bringing the pumpkins over to the school for about six years, but Principal Sheri D'Amato remembers that Forest had already been doing it when she became principal nine years ago. D'Amato said that Forest also sponsors a health contest at the school in the spring, and Wakefield Forest awarded him with a human relations award about three years ago.
"He's just a wonderful example of a good neighbor," said D'Amato. "He really gives back to the community."
D'Amato said the children get very excited about the contest each year. The pumpkin is usually set up in the library so children can make their guesses as they please. Some teachers turn it into a class lesson about estimation and weights, said D'Amato. She remembers some teachers using other objects for size and weight comparrisons to help guide the children into making educated guesses.
Forest said the help of an infamous pumpkin-grower from Washington, D.C. helped him increase the size of his pumpkins. Joe Mills, whose growing records and advice is listed on several Web sites, drove by the street-side patch one day and stopped to meet the gardener. The two eventually began working together, with Mills offering growing advice to Forest on how to yield bigger pumpkins. This year, a seed planted in May turned into the 327-pound monster by early October, just in time for Halloween.
“Since he’s been helping, the weight has gone up exponentially,” said Forest.
FOREST GETS A LOT of joy out of watching the children get excited over the pumpkin each year. He takes pride in his interactions with the children, and when they smile, he smiles. D'Amato said the school is lucky to have him as a neighbor.
“It’s getting to be a big thing [at Wakefield Forest],” said Forest.
Forest made a special appearance on the Wakefield Forest morning newscast, Monday, Oct. 14. Forest presented Ryan with a trophy for his guess on the live show broadcast throughout the school. Forest told Ryan as he presented him with the award, “you’re my kind of kid.”
The main prize was too large to bring into the news studio though. After calling his father for permission, Ryan and a chaperone from the school walked down to Forest’s garden to pick out the real prize: a pumpkin suitable in size to take home. Forest had two pumpkins set aside for Ryan to choose from. He picked the one with the brighter hue of orange.
For the rest of the students, there is always next year. But Forest doesn’t forget about the other contest participants. The entire school will enjoy an ice cream party sponsored by Forest sometime this month as part of his appreciation for their hard work.
“The kids go nuts over it [the pumpkin contest],” said Forest. “And so do I.”