Eleven days after Auburn resident Annetta Sparks’ home in Gentilly Park burned, the students, faculty and family members of the College of Veterinary Medicine came together to raise money for Sparks.
However, the means by which the school chose to raise money, was anything but conventional.
The fundraiser, thrown together last minute in honor of Sparks, was the Second Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest.
“The reason for this contest is strictly for Ms. Annetta Sparks who lost everything when her trailer burned up and three of her four dogs died,” said Dougie Macintire, emcee of the event. The surviving dog was rescued by neighbors, who then brought him to the vet school for treatment.
The 1-year-old lab mix, Champ, was treated at the school’s I.C.U. by Dr. Basic and her student Nic Dixon, a fourth year vet student.
In order to help cover the $500 bill for Sparks, the vet school decided to hold the contest and raise funds not only through the entry fee and donations, but also by selling T-shirts, which had been donated by Dixon’s family shirt company.
As contest time neared, 11 competitors filed down the steps of the Overton Auditorium to their own theme music ranging from “The Chicken Dance” to “The Real Slim Shady.”
Once all contestants had entered the auditorium, the music continued as “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Eye of the Tiger” blared amid cheers and taunts of onlookers who were eager to see the hot dog demolition begin.
The competitors each started with four hot dogs and buns donated by Winn Dixie and once those were consumed more were supplied.
The competitors also had a 10-minute time limit and were told that anyone who got sick would be disqualified.
Despite the short time and restriction, the group of students, doctors and staff members all stayed to try to win the golden cup awarded to the champion.
Each competitor went in with his or her own strategy, including Champ’s attending veterinarian student, Dixon.
“I have a trough of water and I just plan on soaking the buns, taking big bites and not chewing too much,” Dixon said. “The key is just to swallow and go.”
For contest veteran Frank Aman, a fourth year vet student, the plan was a bit different.
Aman, who wore a blue headband with “Chestnut” written on it in honor of the Nathan’s Hot Dog’s contest record holder, Joey
Chestnut, said he had to stay focused and think big. “Iamgoingfor10,”Aman said. “Last year’s winner ate seven so I am going big this year.” Aman said this number is a far cry from his headband hero who ate 68 in 10 minutes last year to take the title.
Although Dixon and Aman each had what they hoped would be the winning approach, it was Chris D’Amico, husband of veterinary intern Laura D’Amico, who walked away the champion after consuming 11 hotdogs in 10 minutes. Sparks, who arrived at the end of the hot dog feast, cheered and whooped for D’Amico with tears in her eyes.
After D’Amico received the coveted cup and medal, Sparks stood at the podium and addressed the crowd who had gathered on her behalf.
“I see some faces that I know, but a hell of a lot I don’t know,” Sparks said. “What I have come to recognize of this town is what a big heart it has. I can’t even begin to tell you what that means to me.”
After Sparks finished her speech, many vet students approached and embraced her.
One student handed Sparks a personal check, saying it was the least she could do, while another brought a sports bag full of clothes and dog toys.
However, the greatest surprise for Sparks came when Macintire announced that all of Champ’s bills would be covered and any extra donations would be passed onto Sparks as a gift.
“I knew this was a special town when I moved here, but this is just amazing,” Sparks said. “It is undoubtedly the Lord’s work and the town of Auburn should be more than proud of themselves.”