The 81st Buckwheat Festival Royalty Court features First Maid of Honor Piper Slinka-Petka and her escort, runner-up to King Buckwheat Alex Burns.
Slinka-Petka competed for a position on the Buckwheat Festival Royalty Court out of a desire to play a role in the Buckwheat Festival’s coordination and take part in something so well-known and respected throughout Preston County and West Virginia.
“It’s like a rite of passage around here,” said Slinka-Petka. “And just like looking at the Buckwheat Festival as an organization, it was something that I wanted to be a part of.”
In doing so, the experience has opened her eyes to the great impact of the festival, and just how many people come together to organize and continue improving the event that locals know and love every year.
“Just getting to be a part of the process of the creation and marketing for the Buckwheat Festival has been very eye-opening to see everything that goes into it and how many people around our country are actually involved in making the festival happening,” said Slinka-Petka. “It’s taught me there’s a lot of power in community.”
In preparations for the festival and attending community events like parades and fairs, the court has had many opportunities to meet folks involved in the festival, as well as the community that attends it. This has been one of the greatest highlights of this experience for Slinka-Petka — witnessing firsthand and continuing the legacy of the Buckwheat Festival.
“Just getting to meet people and being able to connect with people that have done this in the past and also people that are going to do this in the future. It’s good to be able to talk to people that have the same history with it as I will have now,” said Slinka-Petka. “It’s showed me how much even our small town can come together to make big things happen.”
Slinka-Petka is a senior at Preston High School, where she is part of the National Honor Society, Preston High’s KEY Club, a varsity cheerleader and a HOSA – Future Health Professionals state officer.
Burns felt inspired by his friends and love for the Buckwheat Festival to run for the Buckwheat Festival Royalty Court. The competition was an experience that proved challenging at times but was all the more gratifying as a result.
“Hard work pays off,” said Burns. “I had to work hard to get here.”
Events that the court have attended together include various parades and fairs across the state, during which Burns has enjoyed the time spent with the rest of the court — especially when the group stops for ice cream to regroup and relax after long days.
Burns has been showing livestock at the Buckwheat Festival for nine years, and one of his favorite memories of the Buckwheat Festival is earning the title of Lamb Master Showman in 2019. Just as commitment and dedication paid off then, he has utilized the same values throughout his reign on the Buckwheat Festival Royalty Court.
“That was another example of hard work paying off, I’d worked for it for a while,” said Burns. “And just seeing between then and now, just seeing the hard work I’ve put in paying off.”
Just like many Preston County residents, the Buckwheat Festival has been a hallmark of Burns’ childhood, especially through his agricultural connections. This makes it all the more significant to now have such a vital role in the festival’s success.
“I’ve always been around [the festival] growing up, I’ve had fun doing it,” said Burns. “And to be able to be a bigger part of it just kind of means a lot.”
As a senior at Preston High School, Burns is part of the school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter where he has earned his Greenhand and Chapter Farmer award and acts as an Assistant Officer. He is also part of the JROTC Knights Battalion where he has been a Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, First Sergeant and had roles on the Air Rifle and RADIER teams — he is currently the Command Sergeant Major. He is also part of the Preston County Livestock Association.