A proud tradition continues

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2008

Virginia does not host an annual major college football bowl game, although it boasts two major college football programs.

It is not home to a major sports team, although it does share in the marketing area of at least four top-level professional sports teams.

But what it does have is a major political event held every year in a most unlikely venue.

Shad planking is a political event that takes place every April in Wakefield, where would-be candidates, reporters, campaign workers and locals gather to eat shad, drink beer, and kick off the state’s electoral season with lighthearted speeches by politicians in attendance.

At least that’s how it’s described in Wikipedia.

True, Shad planking is a parochial celebration of statewide political candidates, yet it is a must-visit stop on the campaign trail.

And this year was no exception to the low-key yet highly visible country fair of Virginia politics.

The traditional event was originally a tribute to the start of the fishing season, but it soon gained a political function. The planking dates to the 1930s, beginning as a small gathering of friends to celebrate the James River running of shad — the oily, bony fish smoked for the occasion on wood planks over an open flame. The Wakefield Ruritan Club took over in 1949 and has hosted the event ever since on the wooded property of a sportsmen’s club near Route 460 in Sussex County. It is held on the third Wednesday in April each year.

Over the years, the gathering has evolved into a political gossip festival — a place for candidates to see and be seen and for the curious to speculate about the likely winners and losers of the year’s coming campaign season.

In previous years, speakers included such notables as Mills Godwin, John Warner, John Hager, Doug Wilder, Mary Sue Terry, George Allen and Mark Warner.

Warner made another appearance Wednesday as did former Gov. Jim Gilmore and Del. Robert G. Marshall, all of whom are running for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by John Warner.

Shad planking had a modest beginning, but it has grown into major a stop for statewide candidates.

Those who have worked tirelessly for the Ruritans to put on the event for 60 years have every right to be very proud today.