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.

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.