Springfield to host state barbeque championship

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By Nick Schrager

Temperatures are usually starting to cool down in early October around Springfield, but things are certain to heat up next year when the third annual Kentucky Crossroads Harvest Festival will crown a new Kentucky barbeque champion.

Dawn Pettus, executive director of the Springfield-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said the local festival’s annual barbeque cook-off has been certified to crown a state champion, as well as some other honors in the barbeque circle.

“Being declared as a state championship is a great honor, and has to be done by the governor’s office,” Pettus said.

By offering a state championship, Pettus said the local event now becomes even more attractive to competitors because it offers greater prize money, and also offers the opportunity to advance to two of the largest national barbeque events, the Jack Daniels Invitational in Lynchburg, Tenn., and the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo. To qualify for the Jack Daniels event, Pettus said competitors must be invited directly by event sponsors, or capture a state title from a minimum of seven states in one year. Competitors in the American Royal event must win at least one state championship in one year.

In addition to offering a state championship to barbeque enthusiasts, the local event is now also sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. Pettus said this status means competitors will be judged by a standard scoring system, and by judges who are certified by the KCBS.

“This status gives our event more credibility because we’re associated with the KCBS,” Pettus said. “They know it’s run the same as other contests, and it allows us to attract more teams, some you may even see on the Food Network during the year. There are teams who do this all the time, and travel around the nation, competing in as many as 40 events per year.”

The prize money will also help attract more teams. Pettus said the chamber is currently working with a possible corporate sponsor that could see total prize money rise as high as $8,000 for the local event. The sponsorship discussions are ongoing, but Pettus said she hopes to be able to announce the name soon as planning for such a large event is vital to its success.

It’s still more than 10 months away, but the 2009 Kentucky Crossroads Heritage Festival BBQ Cookoff already has drawn some interest, including one team from Taylorsville, Ky., which also won the 2007 Jack Daniels Invitational.

While there will be a highly competitive sanctioned cook-off, Pettus said other events such as a chili cook-off and possibly a dessert competition are being looked at for participants of all skill levels, too.

Ralph Blandford, president of the Springfield-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said this event will be huge for the festival and the community.

“This is an event that’s going to bring in some people who are not from here. It’s almost 100 percent people from outside our community, and we’ve already got commitments from several teams,” Blandford said. “For our event to be declared a state championship by the governor is monumental, especially with our festival being as young as it is.”

That nod from the governor’s office came with some help of another Springfield resident, former mayor Mike Haydon, who works closely with the governor’s office in Frankfort.

“Mike took this to the governor’s office and really got the ball rolling. We owe him a great debt of gratitude,” Blandford said. “Maybe one of these days, with the proper sponsorship, we’ll look up on the Food Network and see Springfield, Ky., on there. That’s our ultimate goal, and if we do that, then we’ve really brought some people to Washington County, and I think all of our members would prosper from that one way or another.”