PALMER -- "Marmaduke" claimed the title of king of the cabbages Friday night at the 19th annual Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off at the Alaska State Fair. At nearly 118 pounds, it wasn't enough to unseat the world record of 138.25 pounds set in 2012, but the washing-machine-size vegetable grown by Steve Hubacek of Wasilla topped this year's closest competitor by 4 pounds.
The expectations of the crowd in the bleachers at the Farm Exhibits Building were high. Hubacek and Scott Robb of Palmer, the grower of the world-record cabbage known as the "Palmer Pachyderm," had each brought in plants weighing more than 111 pounds when the fair opened. These were for display, not for the Weigh-Off, so many presumed that the growers thought they had bigger offerings for the contest.
But as the cabbages came off the trucks and into the ring, it was evident there'd be no world records this year. Robb said he thought his contest entry, "Gorgeous George," outweighed the 111-pounder, but he couldn't be sure. "I hope I didn't bring in my biggest one last week," he said.
When the scales were read, "Marmaduke" earned Hubacek the top prize of $2,000 with a weight of 117.95 pounds. "Gorgeous George" came in second at 113.7 pounds. Third place went to Brian Shunski, whose entry weighed 75.8 pounds.
Shunski, of Salcha, was at a serious disadvantage since the plants can lose up to 4 pounds per hour after being harvested, and he had to drive about seven hours after pulling his plant to get it to the fair.
The event was notable for drawing more media attention than the recent senatorial debates. The ring was filled with photographers and television cameras, including crews from the Food Channel, BBC and a Japanese network. They interviewed the growers and the audience, took pictures of cabbages with names like "Cinderella," "Hopeful" and "Root Maggot Hotel."
A group of Colony High School students provided live Internet streaming to a potential worldwide audience, and green-clad Cabbage Fairy ladies tossed "baby cabbage" -- actually Brussels sprouts -- to the crowd. Boy Scout Troop 367, "The Green Mountain Boys," provided the muscle to wrangle the vegetables on and off the new tripod scale.
Spectators applauded and cheered but apparently weren't enthusiastic enough for at least one of the visiting cameramen. He waved his hands trying to get people in the stands to act more excited for the video.
"This is some kind of record with regard to international coverage," said Talis Colberg, director of Matanuska-Susitna College and one of the 22 competitors.
Colberg's pretty entry, dubbed "The Champion," was clearly not a contender for first place. It weighed in at 25.75 pounds and won a prize of $25. "I do pretty well on a pound-for-pound basis," Colberg said.
Many of the entries were grown by youngsters. Anna Van Diest, a home-schooled eighth-grader, named her 32-pound entry "Scott Robb."
"As long as I can remember I've been growing cabbages," she said. "He's always come over and offered me encouragement. And he's the guy who grows the giant cabbages."
The junior division was won by Garret Streit, a sixth-grader at Academy Charter School. At 68.31 pounds, his "Framagio," named for the big cheese, earned him a $250 check. Home-schooled fifth-grader Keevan Dinkle chose to enter his cabbage, "Leo," in the open division. At 68.9 pounds, it fell short of making it into the top three, but Dinkle had reason to be hopeful. Last year he won both divisions with a best-at-the-fair 92.3-pound entry.
Dinkle, 11, said he currently weighs about 88 pounds himself.
Dinkle said he probably should have planted earlier; he starts his cabbages indoors before moving them to the field.
"Mikey," a 12.75-pound entry from Payton Knittle, a sixth-grader at Palmer Junior Middle School, who placed second in the Junior Division last year, had its own struggles.
"I had to grow it in a pot because we were moving," Knittle said, adding laconically, "It was an interesting experience."
Hubacek said the weather was a factor in the weights this year but that people shouldn't make too much of it: "We had unusually cold weather the year that the record was set." On the other hand, the summer was sunny and unusually warm in 2009, the year Hubacek's 127-pound "Beast" set the world record that remained unbroken until 2012.
Hubacek said "Marmaduke" was a new variety "of my own concoction." By experimenting, he suggested, "I may have undermined myself."