Challenge of the Veterans chili cook-off heats up rivalry


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Stephen Christopher Hamrick, the American Legion District 12 commander, left, Betty Jo Green, the Wreaths Across America Cape Canaveral National Cemetery chairwoman, and Don Pearsall, the VFW District 8 commander, prepare for the Challenge of the Veterans chili cook-off.

SENIOR LIFE Courtesy of Dorothy Walsh

When someone wondered if the Veterans of Foreign War could make as good a chili as the American Legion vets, Don Pearsall felt compelled to issue an official challenge.

“You have to understand the male ego when it comes to making good chili,” said Pearsall, the commander of District 8 of Veterans of Foreign Wars for Brevard and Osceola Counties.

Pearsall’s VFW buddies consider themselves to be professionals at chili-making, since they cook pots and pots of the stuff to feed the homeless.

“You don’t want to be told you can’t make chili,” Pearsall said.

Pearsall met with his American Legion counterpart, Chris Hamrick, to iron out a formal chili cook-off to see who is tops when it comes to the spicy and hearty soup. The result is the Challenge of the Veterans, a chili cook-off that will be from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Oct. 13 at Space Coast Harley Davidson at 1440 Sportsman Lane NE in Palm Bay.

Joining the two organizations over the pots of chili are the corresponding auxiliaries, the Sons of the American Legion and the American Legion Riders motorcycle group.

Besides decisively determining which veterans’ group is the true chili master, the event will benefit Wreaths Across America, a national nonprofit that each December places wreaths at national cemeteries to remember and honor fallen soldiers from all conflicts.

“They want to make sure every veteran’s grave has a wreath for the holidays,” Pearsall said.

Proceeds from the chili cook-off will be used for wreaths to be placed at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery on Dec. 15.

There is keen interest from veterans in participating in the cook-off.

“I have people coming in from as far away as Kissimmee and St. Cloud,” Pearsall said.

The family-friendly event will feature live music, vendors, a playground for the kids and free beer for the grownups, courtesy of Space Coast Harley Davidson. A $5 entry fee entitles guests to sample the chili. Children 10 and younger are admitted for free.

Judging the chili are prominent food experts Sheriff Wayne Ivey and Brevard County property appraiser Dana Blickley.

Retired Army Col. Danny McKnight of Black Hawk Down fame will be at the event to sign copies of his book, “Streets of Mogadishu,” as will Pearsall, author of “Back from the Front: PTSD Understanding You and Your Caregivers.”

In addition to testing their mettle at chili-making, members of the VFW and the American Legion posts will battle it out in bartending to see who can raise the most tips to present to Wreaths Across America.

“We are trying to make the event as much fun as possible,” said Dorothy Walsh, who is organizing the event along with Pearsall.