PRAIRIE GROVE -- Whether it was a record crowd or one of the largest crowds, thousands of fans showed up on Labor Day to cheer on their favorite competition square dance groups at the 2023 Clothesline Fair.
And these groups gave the audience quite a show.
Only 1 point separated the first place team from the second place team, and only 3 points separated the first place team from the third place team.
Boots 'N Bows won the Peggy Parks Memorial Square Dance Competition with a total of 551 points over the two-night competition. The Hometown Highsteppers came in second with 550 points. Ropers and Ribbons won third place with 548 points, and Arkansas Outlaws received honorable mention with 538 points.
This year, the Prairie Grove Lions Club announced a new annual award to recognize the highest scoring team of those competition groups with members who are 11-14 years old, if they decided to opt into it. Seven groups were eligible for the first Diamond Stars Future Award. Twirling Thunder won the new award with a score of 494 points.
Craig Battles, who coordinates square dancing for the Lions Club, said the new award gives younger groups an opportunity and motivation to compete for recognition.
Boots 'N Bows is a square dance group with Farmington High seniors and juniors and it started practicing in May with the goal to win the competition, said Cole Cantrell, who has danced with Boots 'N Bows since he was 4 years. old. This year's group had two new boys who had never danced before, he said.
The group received honorable mention in 2021 and had hoped to do even better in 2022. Cantrell said the dance group was in second place after the first night of competition last year but its performance didn't go as well the second night. He said they finished in sixth or seventh place.
"We were very disappointed," Cantrell said, adding the team members "definitely" wanted to win this year.
Square dancing is a family tradition for Cantrell. His grandfather and uncle both danced at the Clothesline Fair.
He said he has continued dancing for 14 years because he enjoys the camaraderie on the team and the adrenaline of being on stage in front of everyone.
"I'm super close with everyone on the team and it's been something we've grown up together doing," Cantrell said.
He gave a lot of credit to the team's success to their new caller, who also has her own history and tradition with square dancing at the Clothesline Fair.
Callie Harper, also a Farmington graduate, danced with Cowboys and Curls growing up, and her group won the competition in 2015 and 2016. She followed the footsteps of her father, Farmington High baseball coach Jay Harper, and her grandmother, who also danced on winning square dance teams at the fair.
"I was so proud of them," Harper said last week. "The kids are the ones who put in the work. They always came to practice ready to go. They are the ones who wanted to practice all the time."
The group spent many nights practicing from 9-11 p.m., because most are involved in sports at the high school.
Harper said the team knew it danced well but also knew the competition was tough for the 2023 fair. She said the dance groups all had a lot of respect for each other.