"He saw everyone getting a trophy and wanted one," said Michael's mother, Enza Scardigno. "So we were pumping him up for a week to give the pie-eating contest a try. We kept telling him that to win a trophy, he had to try."
Michael was ready for the competition at Weehawken Stadium. Until he saw the pie.
"At first, he sort of chickened out and just sat there," Enza Scardigno said. "He said. 'Do we really have to?' After a while, he finally decided to give it a taste."
Since there were so few contestants in the age 3-to-5 bracket, Recreation Director Chuck Barone allowed Michael's little brother, 2-year-old Vito, also to enter the competition.
"We had a light turnout because of the heat, and we had plenty of pie," Barone said. "So we said we could let the little one enter."
"Why not put him in there?" said Michael and Vito's dad, Morris Scardigno. "It was a cheap way out of me having to buy dessert."
Sure enough, the two brothers sat down, poised to finally give the pie-eating contest a whirl.
"I like pie," said Michael Scardigno, whose picture appeared in last week's editions of the Weehawken Reporter for the watermelon eating contest, but was accidentally identified as someone else. "I eat pie all the time at home."
Sure enough, young Michael stuck his face right into the mound of apple pie and whipped cream.
"I don't like the cream," he said.
When the cream cleared
When the cream cleared, Michael took home first place in his age bracket, followed by little Vito in second place. The trophies that slipped away a week earlier had finally become a reality.
"They were so excited," Enza Scardgino said. "They were holding the trophies all the way home and had to show their grandparents right away. The trophy was all that mattered to them. They had a blast."
In fact, 2-year-old Vito Scardigno became the youngest trophy winner in the history of Weehawken Recreation.
"I can't attest to the history part, but certainly since I've been in charge," said Barone, who has been the township's recreation director for 17 years.
In the older age bracket, last year's pie-eating champion Leo Hochhauser was back to defend his title. Like a true champion, Hochhauser spent the first portion of the competition offering advice and strategy to the younger competitors, like the Scardigno brothers.
"My strategy is to think in my head that I'm starving and never have eaten a thing before in my life," said the 9-year-old Hochhauser, who has also won trophies in the past for his photos and for competing in the township's model-making contest. "I actually do pretty well that way. I shared my strategy with the little kids."
Hochhauser gobbled his way to another pie-eating championship.
"I guess I just wanted to try to win again," Hochhauser said. "And of course, to get free pie. I'm happy that they had apple pie. That's the pie I wanted. My uncle told me that it was the least filling pie, so I had a better chance to win if I had apple."
This year, unlike recent years, the only flavor available was apple. There were no blueberry, cherry or even pineapple pies like in the past.
"For some reason, we could only find apple pies this year," Barone said. "There was no assortment. It was strictly apple."
There were also some bigger challenges for the older participants.
"It was a half of pie, not a slice," Hochhauser said. "I was shocked when I saw it was half of pie. I was scared. I was thinking, 'Can I actually do it with half a pie?'
'I just stuck my face in there'
But young Leo just went to town and got himself another trophy.
"I just stuck my face in there," Hochhauser said. "I didn't worry about the mess."
"Most of the kids don't have a strategy," Barone said. "They just go right for it. They love sticking their faces right in it. Some of them have to get up and blow the pie out of their noses so they can breathe."
Now, there's a mental image we all needed, right?
"Some of them try to be neat, but they're the ones who end up in the worst shape," Barone said. "Most of them just put their faces right into it."
Hochhauser said that he treasures his pie-eating prowess, maybe even more than he does his ability to take award-winning photos and make models.
"It was fun winning the other contests because that takes skill to take a picture or build a model," Hochhauser said. "You have to impress the judges. With this, you just dig in and eat."
Will Hochhauser be back in 2007 for another go at pie-eating supremacy?
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I'm going for three."
Here's a list of the winners at last week's Weehawken Recreation pie-eating contest:
Ages 3-5: First Place - Michael Scardigno. Second Place - Vito Scardigno. Third Place - Vienne Voysey.
Ages 6-9: First Place - Adrian Voysey. Second Place - Joey Pinhasin. Third Place - Kenneth Herrera.
Ages 10-12: First Place - Leo Hochhauser. Second Place - Rafael Prem. Third Place -Marlene Prem.