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Winning Whiskers

Competition Is Hairy, but Champ Takes Honors Again at Conejo Valley Days Event


Michael Tobin woke up Sunday, groomed his champion charcoal gray mustache and set out to defend his title one last time at the 26th annual Conejo Valley Days Chili Cook-Off and Whiskeroo contest.

The Port Hueneme resident has been unbeatable the past two years in the "Best Mustache" competition at the annual chili cook-off, outdoor concert and community get-together, which is part of the annual Conejo Valley Days.

Sunday would be no different for Tobin.

Against stiff competition from a varied crew of bikers, bricklayers and retirees, Tobin, with his neatly trimmed mustache forming a pristine line from upper lip to each ear, was a force once again.

But when Miss Conejo Valley Days 2001 pinned the 1st Place ribbon to his chest, he knew it would be his last.

Like any true champion, Tobin said, he wanted to go out on top.

"I'm going to retire," he said. "I have to give someone else a chance to win."

He wasn't alone on the winners' stand.

Twenty-two contestants competed in the Whiskeroo contest, which is held every year at the event. Ribbons were awarded to the softest and fullest beards, the best beard, the best mustache and the most unique mustache.

A ribbon is even awarded for the scroungiest beard. That dubious honor went to a Thousand Oaks bricklayer named Wally, who didn't give his last name.

The competition has been a mainstay since 1968, though its origin is more of a mystery. Common wisdom among this year's competitors holds that it began as an homage to the Conejo Valley's western heritage. Winners this year were given a belt buckle and the honor of riding in the parade Saturday.

Nearby, chili chefs doled out small, hot samples of their entries. The largely 20-something crowd, many gulping down large spoonfuls of hot chili, then lined up 10-deep in spots around refrigerated trucks for plastic cups of cold beer to wash it down.

Hard rock bands belted out songs at two stages, and "jolly jumpers" were set up for children.

At least 5,000 people crowded into the fairgrounds at the corner of Janss Road and California 23 in Thousand Oaks, authorities said.

The Conejo Valley Cloggers from Thousand Oaks performed a vigorous Irish-style dance set before giving way to the Whiskeroo contest.

Pete Berkuta, who took third place in the "Fullest Beard" category, said he can still remember the last time he shaved--in 1986. Since then, the Thousand Oaks aerospace toolmaker has let his graying facial hair grow to nearly a foot below his nose.

It's not always easy or safe having a foot-long beard in the tool-making business, he said.

"Sure, I've had some close calls, but my wife likes it," Berkuta said before heading over to the contest.

"Last year, I got second place for the scroungiest beard."

Conejo Valley Days festivities continue Wednesday through Sunday, including a carnival, rodeo, and live music and dance entertainment at Conejo Creek Park.

Carnival admission is $6 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens, and $3 for children 6 to 12.

For details, call 371-8730 or check the Web site at

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