LIMA — On the same day that world-class competitive eater Joey Chestnut scarfed down a record 72 hot dogs in New York, a deputy sheriff from Allen County showed off his own skills by downing eight burgers to win the first-ever Kewpee Hamburger Eating Championship.
Cory Lee, a Spencerville resident and employee of the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, ate more Kewpee hamburgers than eight other competitors at the inaugural contest, held during the 24th annual Star Spangled Spectacular on Tuesday evening at Faurot Park.
For winning the competition, Lee earned one free Kewpee meal a week for an entire year. He also took home a championship belt, which was decorated like the ones professional wrestlers win when they pin down their competitors. In true professional wrestling fashion, Lee struck several triumphant poses for the crowd after he donned his championship belt.
Despite his enthusiasm, Lee was feeling a bit queasy after eating eight hamburgers — bun and all — in 10 minutes.
“I feel stuffed and miserable,” Lee said, moments after he scarfed down enough burgers to feed a large family.
Lee added that he didn’t meet his goal of 10 burgers, but his efforts were enough to outlast a group that included fellow law enforcement officers and high school students. He said the encouragement he felt from his peers at the sheriff’s office was enough motivation to carry him through until the end.
“A lot of guys were saying, ‘You’re gonna win this, you got this,’ so I felt pretty confident with their confidence in me,” he said.
When asked how he managed to eat eight burgers in 10 minutes, Lee said his strategy was “slow and in control.”
“Everybody else started off pretty fast, so once I saw that everybody was slowing down, I just kept going at my pace,” he said. “I finally caught up and took it over at the end.”
But Lee didn’t win by much. He ate one more burger than the second-place finisher, Gary Kesler, of Elida, and two more than the third-place finishers, who each ate six.
Dan McCormick, chairman of the 2017 Star Spangled Spectacular, said the eating contest was a last-minute addition that turned out to be one of the most exciting and crowd-pleasing events of the day.
“We didn’t know what to expect with it being the first year, but I’d say it was a success,” McCormick said. “There were a couple hundred people standing out there, so it was a pretty big draw. People were really excited about.”
As the competitors woofed down their hamburgers, the surrounding crowd continuously shouted out words of encouragement for their favorite eaters, as well as some jeers for the ones who weren’t fairing as well. When the final 10 seconds of the contest arrived, the crowd counted down as the competitive eaters finished their last bites.
“There was a lot of energy and crowd interaction, so that was great,” McCormick said.
As for Lee, he said even if he doesn’t compete in next year’s contest — if there is one — he will be sure to make it known that he is the reigning champion.
“For now I’ll find a spot at home somewhere to hang (the belt) up,” he said, “but I’ll wear it next year so everybody knows that I’m the champ.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @Bush_Lima.