Howard County Fair has been held in West Friendship, MD for 72 years. It is primarily an agricultural fair, split between open events and 4-H events. It has horse shows, antique cars and, of course, a midway filled with rides and all of the food ephemera a fair goer could wish for.
But it also has some rather diverse other classes and among those none is more eclectic than its Worm Race, which is held on the last Saturday of the Fair in the midafternoon.
The Worm Race is a very organized event put on for the 4-H’ers who, for the duration of the event, are referred to as “worm tamers”. There are three divisions in the Worm Race: the slimy division for earthworms, slugs and night crawlers; the fuzzy division for caterpillars and wooly bears; and the “pedes” division for millipedes and centipedes. It actually says in the rules that the pedes are to race separately “due to their lightning locomotion”. It also says “slugs are encouraged to race in the slimy division.”
From this description of the contestants it would seem at first glance to be a boys-only type of sport but it is hotly contested by girls as well. In fact the current announcer, Amy Brueckmann, was a devoted worm race enthusiast who concedes she was usually second to another girl who was the ongoing champion in their day. It should be mentioned that both women, now married with children, have sons who are Worm Race competitors, so it appears that worm racing can get into your blood.
Mrs. Brueckmann is a great announcer, cheering on the worm racers and the worm tamers equally. After the first race she asked the young competitor what his winning worm had for breakfast that morning.
“Did you give it coffee? Or maybe apple juice? Or oatmeal?”
“Nah,” he replied modestly. “I guess he had pig poo!”
The contestants are usually home bred and they arrive in various containers with either damp dirt or leaves to keep them happy until their turn to race. It is not unusual to hear a cry of, “Oh, no!” and see a small worm tamer drop to his or her knees to search for a missing race worm, fuzzy or pede in the dirt of the arena but usually this ends well and the escapee is found and returned to the competition.
For those with tender sensibilities it should be mentioned the rules state that “all of the race contestants must be placed in their proper environment to survive” after the race is over. There is a little stream running through the middle of Howard County Fairgrounds and it is generally accepted that the area is where the competitors are released to live their lives in comparative ease after their racing careers. They can also be carefully returned to their home turf to, hopefully, breed more winners for the next year’s worm races.