MY TOWN WITH SHEKINAH HENRY: VIDALIA, GEORGIA

"My Town" is a new feature to VCUathletics.com where we give an in-depth look into the hometowns of one or several of our student-athletes. Our first trip is off to Vidalia, Georgia with Shekinah Henry of the women's basketball team. VCU Athletic Communications Graduate Assistant Mollie Wallace caught up with Williams to talk about her hometown, onions and much much more.

Have you ever been in the produce section of the grocery store and seen a sign for Vidalia onions? Did you ever ask yourself, "Hmm I wonder where those are grown?" It would be safe to assume that you haven't and that is okay. Vidalia onions are hand planted and hand harvested in…you guessed it: Vidalia, Georgia.

The city of Vidalia is located in Toombs County which is about three hours southeast of Atlanta and is rightfully known as, "The Sweet Onion City." With a population of over 10,000, Vidalia is the biggest city in the county.

Vidalia sprung up around the railroad and train depot that serviced pecan and tobacco farmers in that region. The sweet onion did not become an important crop until the 1931 when a crop of onions was particularly sweet that year. By 1940, the onions were being packaged and sold to tourists.

The people of Vidalia take their onions seriously. The state of Georgia granted The Vidalia Onion Trademark Act in 1986 to the onion growers. The Federal Marketing Order #955 of 1989 allowed the growers to form the Vidalia Onion Committee and it granted a U.S. federal protection of the onion's name and production. There is also an annual festival that is solely devoted to the Vidalia onion.

But you might be wondering why is Vidalia, Georgia and its onions important to VCU Athletics. Onions are not the only things that come out of Vidalia. Women's basketball freshman, Shekinah Henry hails from this small, onion obsessed town.

Originally from Biloxi, Miss., Henry and her family relocated to Vidalia due to Hurricane Katrina. "We left right before the storm," commented Henry. A trip that was just supposed to be a visit with friends and a refuge to wait out the storm turned out to be a permanent situation. Henry added, "My mom went back to help because she was a nurse. When she went to our house, it wasn't there."

Moving from a city like Biloxi to Vidalia, "was a huge" transition for Henry and it took a little time to adjust to a new life in the country.

"I was always used to doing something," Henry stated, "It was different being bored all of the time."

What to Do in Vidalia

Buckhorn Creek Ranch

Rocky Creek Golf Course

Downtown shopping in historic Vidalia

Coleman Horse Farms

Vidalia Onion Museum

Tour of Vidalia Onion Factory

But now that Henry has lived there for the past six years, she has found that there are some special, interesting and quirky things about her town of Vidalia.

Henry stated that "the sense of community" is the most special thing about Vidalia. "It's like a big family," she added. Henry's senior year, the women's basketball team went undefeated until the championship game. She got to witness the enthusiasm that grew in the community throughout the season. "That has to be the highlight of my whole time there because you really got to see people come together," said Henry, "The games were packed, people would see you on the streets and say 'hey good game', people would also send us brownies."

The biggest event that happens in the town of Vidalia is the Vidalia Onion Festival which occurs every year at the beginning of the onion season. Featured on Food Network, the festival has something to offer all ages.

"It's a big deal," commented Henry. "They have a beauty pageant. They have all kinds of stuff. Everyone goes."

This five day event kicks off with the Miss Vidalia Onion Pageant and continues with a children's parade. There are official opening ceremonies that begin the weekend's events which include a street dance, the Sweet Onion car & motorcycle show as well as an arts & crafts festival. Henry said, "The arts and crafts festival is where the kids can make art out of onions."

There are multiple opportunities to have your picture taken with the festival mascot, Yumion (left).

Henry's favorite part of the festival is the street dance. "They set up a big stage out in the parking lot of the community college and there are different booths and rides," commented Henry. "You can just walk around, taste food and listen to the band playing. It is a big social event and a big deal."

For individuals who have an adventurous side, they can participate in the Vidalia onion eating contest. There are three age categories (6-11, 12-16, 17 & older) in which participants see how many onions they can stomach in three minutes. In 2010, the winners ate 8, 16, and 25.5 onions respectively within the allotted amount of time for a cash prize of $100. This event is not one of Henry's favorite and you won't see her participating anytime soon.

"They say it tastes like apples," added Henry. "I don't see how that can be. It's so gross. I can't watch it."

The Vidalia Onion Festival is a big deal for the people of Vidalia but it only happens once a year. What about the other 360 days of the year? What goes on when people aren't celebrating the glory of the onion?

"After basketball games or football games or whatever was going on that Friday night everyone would go to McDonald's," Henry said. "It would get packed and you couldn't even sit down."

Henry added, "You couldn't go to the movies after the game because the last showing was at nine o'clock." So movies pretty much had to be a Saturday activity.

But if hanging out at the local McDonald's or going to an early movie doesn't strike your fancy then you can visit the town of Santa Claus located just 15 minutes outside of Vidalia. There are only two towns in the world named after Saint Nick and Georgia has one of them. So you can go buy a stocking in Santa Claus and fill it with onions.

To sum it up, Vidalia, GA is a small town with a lot of southern charm and all of the onions you can eat. So if you're ever in southeast Georgia and find yourself looking for something to pass the time, then go check out "The Sweet Onion City." You won't be disappointed.

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