SAN ANTONIO — For the kickoff to its centennial year, the National Watermelon Association pulled out all the stops at its annual convention.

Watermelon convention smashes recordsThe event, Feb. 20-24 at the Westin La Cantera Resort, had a record number of attendees, record amount raised in the annual auction, and for attendees, over-the-top entertainment.

Comedian Leo Gallagher, one of the most recognizable faces in the entertainment industry — when it comes to watermelons — shared his secrets to smashing the perfect watermelon.

As it turns out, it’s all about the pre-slicing. Gallagher, who joined attendees on the final day of the convention’s program for a stand-up routine followed by watermelon smashing, says he’s smashed thousands of the melons in his career, but only after they’re sliced in thirds, which helps improve the splatter pattern.

He also said he picked watermelons to smash “because they’re the biggest thing in the produce department.”

Bob Morrissey, executive director of the Lakeland, Fla.-based association, said this year’s event turned out beyond expectations.

“Every record that we ever had has been reset in the past few days,” he said. “Everything has been more than we have ever imagined. The entertainers and speakers we have had just clicked.”

More than 550 people attended this year’s convention, he said.

The annual auction raised more than $622,000 this year, $80,000 more than the all-time record for the annual auction set last year, said Arnold Mack, owner of Mack Farms, Lake Wales, Fla.

The NWA plans to spend the next year celebrating its 100th, capping the celebration off at next year’s convention Feb. 19-23 in Savannah, Ga.

Awards presented, queen crowned.

Paul Teague of Jonesboro, Ark., and chairman of the association’s research committee, received the outstanding service award and the marketing excellence award was presented to NASCAR truck driver Ross Chastain, whose vehicle is sponsored by the NWA and National Watermelon Promotion Board.

Eight regional queens also were on hand for the annual National Watermelon Queen Contests. Amber Nolin, reigning Alabama Watermelon Queen, was named the National Watermelon Queen, and Kimberly Duda, reigning Texas Watermelon Queen, was named first runner-up.