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Pit spitting continues friendships at National Cherry Festival

People line up to compete in the National Cherry Festival’s Pit Spit contest on Monday at the Open Space in Traverse City.
Jan-Michael Stump
Traverse City Record-Eagle
People line up to compete in the National Cherry Festival’s Pit Spit contest on Monday at the Open Space in Traverse City.

Most of the time, spitting in public isn’t a polite thing to do. But when it’s the National Cherry Festival and you’re trying to beat the day’s record, spitting cherry pits is on the table.

And so it was for a few dozen people at Monday’s adult pit spitting competition who vied for six leaderboard spots.

Tanya Bertke from Gainesville, Florida was one of the lucky six. She spit her pit all the way to second– briefly first– place in the women’s category with 29 feet 11 inches of distance.

“It’s a lot of fun, just something different,” she said. This was her first time participating. “I figured, hey, why not give it a try?”

For the first time, the pit spitting competition was also sponsored by the Pit Spitters, a local baseball team. They gave tickets to the top three men’s and women’s spitters at the end of the competition.

Along with Bertke in the women’s category, third place reached 29 feet three inches and first place spit her pit 36 feet down the runway.

In the men’s category, third place reached 40 feet five inches, second place got to 46 feet and first place reached 48 feet.

But the second place winner on the men’s side was no rookie. Randy Simmons has done the pit spit for years, and won about 25 times.

“It’s all about the competition, that’s what brings me back,” he said. “Weather conditions are great, but the wind from the north makes it harder to keep it on the mat.”

Simmons said he also goes to see his friend, the host, Herb Lemcool.

“Who hasn’t had cherries in their car, rolled down the window and spit the pits out the window while they were driving?” Lemcool asked.

Lemcool has been part of Cherry Fest for decades, becoming president in 1991, directing the children’s parade and holding plenty of positions in between. He has been the emcee for the pit spitting competitions for about 15 years.

“Being involved with the Cherry Fest is one of the best things a person can do,” Lemcool said. “It gets in your blood.”

Cherry Fest was part of his marriage, too. He said his first dates with his wife Barbara Lemcool were at Cherry Fest, and she eventually became the president, too, in 2002.

“It was in our marriage contract that she had to be involved with the Cherry Festival,” Herb said. “And she was. She was the kind of person you couldn’t say no to.”

Barbara passed away in 2023, and since then, Herb and Simmons have been part of a group of friends who have all lost their spouses.

Herb said they have fun together, especially at Cherry Fest.

Lauren Rice is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
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