By late afternoon on Sept. 18, the Meadows erupted into battle cries, laughter and tomato-throwing chaos.
Buena Vista Rotary Club member and co-coordinator J. David Holt felt very positive about the overall event. By the end, he reported about 250 people, 100 of them participants, and close to $10,000 raised for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Even as people were arriving for the Great State Tomato War, getting their T-shirts and bandanas and sitting down to a hot meal and a drink, several participants were eager to get out on the field and start throwing tomatoes.
Thankfully, the Texas and Colorado cowboy effigies were already set up to give the throwers a good warmup.
“You gotta warm up the arm. We don’t want any arm injuries today. It’s good to get some practice throws so that I can punish the Texans out there,” said Taylor Holt.
A Colorado resident for 11 years and out for his first Tomato War, Taylor initially sided with Colorado. He later switched sides to give the Texans an extra hand.
Joining Taylor was Nick Gianoutsos, also a Colorado resident fighting for Texas “mainly because there are not enough Texans to fight for Texas today.”
New to the event, Gianoutsos loved the idea of the Tomato War. “It’s good exercise. Everybody’s having fun,” he said.
At 5 p.m., Holt and Tomato War veteran Larry Bunte announced the start of the festivities and had the two state teams—red bandanas for Colorado and yellow for Texas—take their places on the field.
The Texans gathered around the symbol of their last stand, the Tomalamo built by Bunte. Combatants were also encouraged to capture the enemy flag whenever possible.
The instant the combatants were given the go ahead, the air was full of flying tomatoes. Within minutes, shirts and skin were reddened with tomato juice.
Despite being largely outnumbered and having their flag stolen within the first few minutes, Texan Kimberly Windle said the Texas team gave “a lot more spirit. And we never give up.”
Kimberly and her husband Danny had a lot of fun fending off the Colorado team and were hopeful to return to the event next year, especially if it takes place before the school year.
“I think we actually know how the guys at the Alamo felt now because we were outnumbered like 10 to one,” Danny said.
“We put a lot of hurt on the Colorado crew. That makes us happy,” Kimberly added.
Members of the Colorado team were happy to put the hurt on Texans too, including veteran throwers from the Guffey Tomato War last year, Laura Honig and Jason Chavez.
Honig found this Tomato War more of a delight thanks to more people, higher competition and squishier tomatoes.
“It was a lot of fun. I got somebody right in the head, then I got one right in the leg,” she said.
“Tomatoes flying everywhere. You have to use situational awareness, be aware of your enemy’s location and attack constantly,” Chavez said “It’s all for fun and a good cause. It’s a good thing for bringing the community together. We still embrace the other side even though they’re our enemy.”
The Texas team made several attempts to get either flag over the course of the war.
“My first run was recovering the Texas flag that was originally stolen, and then (Gianoutsos) got the Colorado flag,” Taylor said laughing, “the kids on the Colorado team were relentless.”
“They thought we were real Texans,” Gianoutsos added.
“We got destroyed, but we got our money’s worth, that’s for sure,” Taylor said. “It exceeded my expectations. It was way more fun than I thought it would be.”
Taylor and Gianoutsos definitely plan to return next year and hope that more Texans will join in, too.
As noted by others, the kids especially appeared to enjoy the Tomato War, smiling and laughing as they threw tomatoes at the effigies, the enemy team and even each other.
Even 10-year-old Kyna Boyle of Salida, who had been preparing for some tomato throwing with family the previous week, commented on having a great day.
“I was just super happy that I was in there. I was all ready for this, hoping our team would win and we won. My mom has had rage issues on the road from Texans, so I feel like my mom is super happy from this, and I am super happy,” Boyle said.
Bunte loved watching everyone, from spectators to combatants, get into the spirit of the Tomato War.
“I think it went very well … I think a good time was had by all,” he said. “It’s a perfect day to have a war. The kids had a great time … That kind of makes things simple. First time here with a new group, some challenges but otherwise a success. We raised some really good money for cystic fibrosis and mostly the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.”
Thanks to the wind that day, the blow-up one-ton tomato wasn’t fully put to use, and a misunderstanding with Heart of the Rockies Radio led to a lack of PA system to use for the One-Ton Tomato song.
While that plan had to be scrapped, Bunte knew the kids would love the giant tomato regardless, as they kept getting under it to punch it into the air.
Holt said the Great State Tomato War was “definitely in the cards” for next year with time to plan a bigger and better event to look forward to.
He thanked Heart of the Rockies Radio as well as Eddyline Brewery for donating the beer sold at the event.
He especially wanted to thank all of the sponsors and the “tremendous support from this great community. A lot of businesses have been struggling over the last year, and yet so many stepped up and donated to help make this a success before we even threw the first tomato.”
Holt also extended thanks to Jed Selby and South Main Development Company for donating the property without charge or restriction.
“It’s a beautiful place, a great place to have this event. We hope we can do it here again next year,” Holt said.