National Cornhusking Contest Keeps Traditions Alive

120 cornhuskers gather in Marshall, Mo., for the annual National Cornhusking Contest

| May 2012

  • Author of The National
    Mitchell Burns (left), author of "The National," and Frank Hennefent, reigning champion in the Men’s Open Class. These two friends typify the competitors who make the National Cornhusking Contest a friendly, family-oriented event.
  • Cornhusking
    Wagons, teams and competitors stand ready for the next round of husking competition.
  • Emma Johnson
    Emma Johnson is treasurer of the National Cornhuskers Assn. and a contestant. “We go into the field as competitors,” she says, “but we come out as friends.”
  • John Van Liere
    John Van Liere’s father wouldn’t let him compete in the 1938 National Cornhusking Contest. By the 1970s, however, this Colton, S.D., farmer was entering and winning competitions at the state and national level.
  • Joe Anholt
    Among the living legends at the 2012 National Cornhusking Contest: 91-year-old Joe Anholt, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who began husking corn competitively in 1940.
  • Picking Clean
    Picking “clean” can make the difference between winning or not, as contest officials weigh all husks and missed ears and deduct the weight from each competitor’s total.
  • The Thumb Hook
    The thumb hook is the most popular cornhusking implement among competitive huskers, although some still use wrist hooks, palm hooks and pegs.
  • Teams of Horses
    Twelve teams of horses and mules drew wagons equipped with bangboards along the husking lanes.
  • Bangboards
    Wagons and bangboards follow huskers down the row.

  • Author of The National
  • Cornhusking
  • Emma Johnson
  • John Van Liere
  • Joe Anholt
  • Picking Clean
  • The Thumb Hook
  • Teams of Horses
  • Bangboards

It’s a mild morning in October 2012 as a shotgun blast signals the start of the next round of competition at the National Cornhusking Contest. More than 120 competitors from 12 states have gathered at a cornfield on the outskirts of Marshall, Mo., to celebrate an event that traces its origins to 1924.

This is the big show, the culmination of nine state cornhusking competitions, with state champions coming from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota, along with competitors from Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia. Today’s event won’t draw the tens of thousands of spectators who once attended cornhusking contests that Time magazine in 1936 proclaimed “... the fastest growing sporting spectacle in the world.” Still, a crowd of several hundred has gathered here in central Missouri to watch the nation’s top huskers in action.

Great family event

“We expect a great show today,” says Emma Johnson, treasurer of the National Cornhusking Assn. and the go-to person for today’s event. “The corn is in very good, uniform condition throughout the field and we have a great field of competitors. Last time we held the nationals here in Missouri in 2005, we picked in about 2 inches of rain. Today the weather couldn’t be better.”

Today’s competition will be divided into 12 classes for men and women, beginning with girls and boys age 14 and younger, and going up to classes for men and women age 75 and older. Youngsters and seniors pick for 10 minutes; the Men’s Open Class lasts for 30 minutes. All other competitors pick for 20 minutes. A gleaner follows each competitor to retrieve missed ears and husks; their weight is deducted from the husker’s total.



Twelve teams of horses and mules, resplendent in brightly polished harness, are hitched to wagons equipped with bangboards to catch the thrown ears as they sail through the air. While some states use tractor-drawn wagons in their husking competitions, Missouri, Kansas and South Dakota still feature horse-drawn wagons, adding to the authenticity of this time-honored event.

Emma is not only in charge of registering each competitor but will also compete in the Women’s Open Class. She is an old hand in cornhusking contests. “This is my third year helping run the national event,” she explains. “But I started competing when I was 8 and I turned 36 this year, so I’ve been competing for more than 25 years.



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