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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Going hog wild for the Benton Neighbor Days

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Pigs roam freely in a corral on Kevin Bollinger's farm in rural Benton.
BENTON -- Kevin Bollinger slowly released the latch on the gate of his barn at his farm in rural Benton Wednesday morning. And one by one his 35 pigs filed out of the chute and ran freely into the open corral.

Although the pigs were enjoying the sunny day, it doesn't compare to the excitement they'll face Saturday night during the Benton Neighbor Days' annual greased pig chase.

Bollinger's pigs, which he purchased solely for the event a few weeks ago, will be chased, manhandled -- and in some cases ridden -- by hundreds of area children this weekend.

"Kids run all over the place and of course the excitement of the chase is what's so great," noted Charles Klueppel of Benton.

Klueppel, who has announced the chases for about 30 years, said the attractiveness of the greased pig chase is the tremendous participation of the large crowd and the 150-250 children who participate.

"There's a value to it, and it's a nice, family get-together," Klueppel commented.

Children are divided into five groups: boys and girls ages 6-9 and 10-11 compete separately; boys and girls ages 12-15 are combined into one group.

"That way it's fair they're competing against their sizes," Klueppel reasoned.

In any given chase there's about 60-70 children chasing anywhere from five to seven pigs -- which are not really greased, Klueppel noted. The entire event is over within 20 minutes.

"They catch them and of course we have adults in the arena to help. The idea is the kid has to catch the first pig, and then everyone who catches a pig receives a prize," Klueppel explained.

Klueppel pointed out the chase is something the children will always remember.

"I've had kids tell me (years later) 'I caught the first pig such and such a time,'" Klueppel recalled. "They remember these things and the prize, certificate and pig they caught. It's something they actually remember years and years later. of course,

It's a special day for the kids, agreed Bollinger, whose 7- and 10-year-old sons participate.

Bollinger has supplied the pigs for the greased pigs contest for about 12 years and admits the hardest thing about preparing the pigs for the event is actually finding them. "It's just hard to get pigs anymore," Bollinger said.

This year Bollinger was able to get the pigs from the livestock sale in Fruitland, but last year he had a very difficult time finding pigs, he said, adding he eventually got some from a local farmer.

Bollinger purchases the pigs about one month prior to the annual event. They average in size around 55-60 pounds and some have weighed up to 90 pounds in the past.

"I try to get a couple of different sizes," Bollinger noted. Since the pigs are raised in a building with controlled temperatures and away from rain and sun, Bollinger said he keeps the pigs out in the pen a few days before Neighbor Days to get them used to the weather. Bollinger has a self-feeder and waterer for the pigs to use.

The Benton Chamber of Commerce supplies the pig feed, but Bollinger donates the use of the pigs and the keeping of them prior to the event. "About the only thing I do is make sure the pigs aren't full of corn prior to the race because it makes them get hotter quicker," Bollinger said.

Around 9 p.m. Saturday, Bollinger will head out to his farm and load the pigs in a trailer and head to the Benton Neighbor Days. He noted he has never experienced any injuries or deaths with the pigs through the years. Once the pig chase is over, Bollinger waits for the next livestock sale and sells the pigs back, he said.

Rules to participate are simple: Children just have to be there before the event. No registration or fee is required. However, they may want to wear some old clothes, Klueppel recommended.

The greased pig chase is somewhat of a finale for Neighbor Days, Klueppel said. The event begins at 10 p.m. Saturday on the lower ball field at the Benton ballpark.

"It's cooler usually at night, and it pretty much tears up a ball field, especially if it's been raining, so that's why we do it at 10," explained Christy Mothershead of the Benton Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the Neighbor Days. "And a lot of the kids will get out and roll around in the dirt. This way parents can take them home and wash them off right away."

Spectators of the event generally begin finding their seats around 9:30 p.m. so they've got a good view for the show, Klueppel noted.

"It's just fun to watch," Klueppel commented. "It's like a beehive -- they're just running everywhere. It looks like a swarm of bees."