Twenty-one years ago, Ermon Godwin strolled the Walter Ragan field at the old Midway High School pointing out where the stage for that year’s Hollerin’ Contest would be set up, rattling off how many booths would be set up, how many media outlets had been called and how many people were expected.
Just days before the event, always held back then the Saturday before Father’s Day, Godwin was cool and collected, assured that the annual fundraising that put Spivey’s Corner and, in many ways, Sampson County on the map would go off without a hitch, producing a handsome financial bounty for the community’s volunteer fire department.
“This is a great thing for Sampson County, Spivey’s Corner and our fire department. People come from miles around, other states, to hear about the hollerin’ tradition and to hear some of the best hollers around. I said years ago it would put us on the map and it has, and I figure it will be around for a long, long time to come,” he was quoted as saying during that interview in 1994.
Godwin had been right. In fact, he’d been right year after year during his long-time tenure as founder and head of the National Hollerin’ Contest.
But time and a bend toward other activities has taken its toll on the once popular and crowd-garnering contest. Attendance began to wane several years ago, and despite valiant attempts to rally support — including a new location, a new event date and added activities — new life simply could not be breathed into it.
And earlier this week the inevitable happened — word came that one of Sampson County’s longest running events would be silenced, suspended with only a hint of hope of its revival for the 2018 season, the contest’s 50th anniversary.
“We made a decision to end it and possibly have one more event in 2018 if there is interest. We reached a point where the membership wanted to go a different way with fundraising,” noted Aaron Jackson, chairman of the contest fundraising committee, in a story that ran in Wednesday’s Sampson Independent.
“It was a long thought-out decision,” longtime contest organizer and Spivey’s stalwart Wayne Edwards added in that article. “We knew one day we were going to have to make that decision. It was a hard one to make.”
It’s a hard one to accept as well. But accept it we must, understanding that nothing stays the same forever, even long cherished traditions we hope to pass on from one generation to another, if not in action, at least in remembrance.
The National Hollerin’ Contest kept the art of the holler alive year after year. After that first run in 1969, it quickly became a summer tradition longed for by contestants eager to pass the history and heritage along and by visitors curious about the hollers and longing for the excitement that the event brought to the small Sampson crossroads.
For Godwin, it was a way to bring attention to his home community, to promote a long ago way of life and form of communication and to raise money for a rural fire department in need of the funds the contest raised each year.
We believed in the contest, too, and supported it year after year, believing that keeping it alive meant ensuring that the art of the holler would live on for decades to come.
But like Godwin, we didn’t want to see the contest become a joke, a fading flower that outlived its usefulness, with diminished attendance that left it a mere shell of what it once was.
In “Hollerin’ Revived at Spivey’s Corner,” a book Godwin he co-wrote with Oscar Bizzell in 1993, Godwin stated, “Hollerin’ is part of our heritage and I hope we can keep the contest going for many years to come. But rather than string it out after it loses its appeal, I’d say we should just forget it and go out gracefully.”
And with grace it should go, dissolving into the recesses of our minds and our hearts, a tradition we are thankful to have been witness to for many years.