A new Krause wins windy 40th Pit Spit

Published 6:14 pm Saturday, July 6, 2013

Ann Pudell puckers up as she prepares to spit a cherry pit. (Leader photo/JOHN EBY)

Ann Pudell puckers up as she prepares to spit a cherry pit. (Leader photo/JOHN EBY)

EAU CLAIRE — Matt won the 40th annual International Cherry Pit Spit, but “BB Gun” Krause, not defending champion Ronn Matt of Chicago.

Krause, 30, the son of 15-time winner Rick “Pellet Gun” Krause of Tuba City, Ariz., and brother of world record holder Brian “Young Gun” Krause, who celebrated his 35th birthday and was inducted into the hall of fame, on the Tree-Mendus Fruit court where his father married Marlene “Machine Gun” Krause 17 years ago, rolled to his first title by flipping his tart Montmorency pit 41 feet, 6.5 inches.

“You’re no longer adopted!” Pellet Gun called to his son.

Matt, a service adviser for an auto dealership who lives in Dimondale outside Lansing, clutched the yellow “Born to Win” shirt his family gave him.

“I’m going to go beat them in golf now,” he said. His prize box contained a round at Indian Lake Hills Golf Course, along with lodging at Baymont Inn and Suites in Dowagiac.

“I’m on my way, but there’s no secret really. That first one got lucky because the wind was bad today. I figured 45 to 50 feet would win. I didn’t think 41 was going to get it with my dad and brother still to go. I think 66 is the best I’ve ever done in competition. I’ve been doing this since I was 3 or 4 years old. I didn’t like tart cherries. My mom has pictures of me popping the pits out and wiping my hands on my shirt. I’m going to put the belt on the mantel. It feels pretty good to get a championship. I’ve always kind of been the black sheep, so I’m pretty excited about this. The guys at work keep wanting me to spit for them. They don’t believe we can spit that far, so maybe I’ll take some cherries back to them.”

Maybe it’s a new world order emerging after 40 years long dominated by the Krause family, but Matt was joined not by his father or brother, but by Illinois nurse Mark Yello (40 feet, 3.5 inches), who came to pick cherries, and longtime competitor Tom Westgate (36 feet, 10.5 inches), who lives nearby on — where else? — Pucker Street.

The other Matt, 47, returned the championship belt he pried away after 12 years to the Krause family after sputtering to 33 feet, four inches, on a windy Saturday afternoon which gave contestants fits. He won in 2012 with 69 feet.

Pellet Gun, in his worst showing in 34 years, managed just 31 feet, 7.5 inches, while Young Gun, whose world record of 93 feet, 6.5 inches, in 2003, has endured for a decade, hit 31 feet, 2.5 inches. In 2012, Rick spit 61 feet, two inches, for second; Brian, 52 feet, 10 inches; and Matt finished third with 60 feet, 11 inches.

Brian won his ninth title in 2011 at 66 feet, 1.5 inches.

Next year they could be contending with Niles’ Chloe Bartz, 12, who propelled herself from the youth brackets with 40 feet, 10 inches — better than her dad, Edwardsburg teacher and football coach Kevin Bartz (32 feet, two inches) and Canadian Amanda Jennings (27 feet, seven inches), the only woman to qualify for the championship. Jennings won her third women’s title with 32 feet, 11.5 inches.

Chloe is the granddaughter of 1977 champion Richard Bartz of Berrien Springs.

Cherry trees sagged under the weight of abundant fruit compared to last summer’s drought when there were so few fresh cherries frozen had to be substituted.

When Herb Teichman established the Pit Spit to mark the beginning of the southwest Michigan tart cherry harvest in 1974 — the first one, won by Dan Kingman, took place in downtown Dowagiac.

Gas cost 55 cents a gallon and streaking made headlines.

Former champion “Gentleman Joe” Lessard of Canada blew away the competition in the dignitaries round by hurling his pit 44 feet, eight inches; Eau Claire Mayor Dave Kurtz, 20 feet, eight inches; Berrien County Judge John Donahue, 16 feet, seven inches; Berrien County Judge Sterling Schrock, whose toss went out of bounds; Doug Belkin of the Wall Street Journal, 15 feet, nine inches; previous champion Diana Bernstein, 17 feet, one inch; Bev Berens of Hamilton, Ohio, for the Farmers Exchange, 15 feet, seven inches; and Christine Karsten, WNDU, 14 feet, three inches.

Trevor Wendt won 5 and under with five feet, 11 inches; 6-8, Zach Bartz, 26 feet, five inches; and 9-12, Chloe Bartz, with Dick Judd’s granddaughter, Molly Hazen of Libertyville, Ill., second at 28 feet, 1/4 inch.