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Manchester’s bravest and finest square off in wing-eating contest

Hartford Courant logo Hartford Courant 1/22/2020 By Jesse Leavenworth, Hartford Courant

In this corner, in the blue T-shirt, standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 238 pounds - Manchester Fire Lt. Matt LeRoux. His opponent, in the black T-shirt, at 5 feet, 9 inches and 195 pounds - town police Officer Ricardo Tavares.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, for the main event this Wednesday morning. The table has been set here at the Stop & Shop supermarket on West Middle Turnpike. Each gastric gladiator will confront a 22-pound pile of bone-in, barbecue chicken wings. The timer is set at five minutes and the man who devours the most wings wins $1,000 for the charity of his department’s choice.

The chicken and the discard pans are down. Are you ready?

LeRoux, 35, grabs his first wing and rotates it, stripping the meat like corn on the cob. He’s not missing a stray strip of that yard bird. Those bones are clean! The Manchester native says he trained by watching YouTube videos of champion wing eaters.

A side note here - among the various wing-eating records, Geoffrey Esper of Oxford, Mass., ate 281 wings in 12 minutes last year to become the new National Buffalo Wing Festival champion, according to The Buffalo News. Esper’s victory ended the five-year reign of Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., the newspaper reported.

The event in Manchester is, in part, a promotion as the nation’s biggest wing-eating bonanza, the Superbowl, draws near. The National Chicken Council estimates that Americans will nibble, gnaw, strip and inhale more than 1.3 billion pounds of wings during the big game. The opponents here in Manchester are seated near the new “wing bar,” introduced at 53 Stop & Shops throughout the state and offering various flavors and a range of heat - from mild to howling hot.

And now back to the competition.

Tavares, 36, is going at his mound of sauce-slathered wings with steady deliberation. Only the corners of his mouth are red, while LeRoux’s more savage approach has smeared sauce across both cheeks, prompting one observer to label him “the Joker.”

The crowd cheers wildly as the ten-second countdown ends. And now the judges study the discard pans. LeRoux looks confident, and with good reason. He has ingested 2.76 pounds of wings to Tavares’s two pounds.

The Manchester Fire/Rescue/EMS Department is presented with a $1,000 check that will go to Rebuilding Together Manchester, which helps low income, disabled and elderly people with home repairs. The police department receives a second-place check for $250, which will go to local police Sgt. Stephen Bresciano’s family to help with his ongoing battle against pancreatic cancer.

Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at jleavenworth@courant.com

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