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Just call him young Tom Sawyer

When the Valdez family was planning a vacation to Hannibal, Mo., Robin Valdez decided to do some research and see what activities there were for her kids.

She came across the National Tom Sawyer Fence Painting Contest on July 7, a date they planned on being in town. On a whim, she checked when the state competition was and where. It was June 23 in St. Cloud -- she was just in time.

Having little to no painting experience, her son, Antonio, 11, signed up and ended up winning the competition, reserving him a spot in the July 7 nationals.

"I had to dress up as Tom Sawyer, or paint good or paint fast. I sort of did both," Antonio, of Detroit Lakes, said of his painting abilities.

With his win in the Becker Jaycees hosted St. Cloud event, Antonio received $200 in savings bonds, $100 gas card for the trip to Missouri, two nights lodging, a luncheon and pizza party, riverboat cruise and passes to the Mark Twain Cave and Museum.

Antonio will be required to whitewash a 4-foot-by-5-foot fence of rough cut oak. He'll have his bucket of watered down paint and a brush.

He said he's excited for the national competition, although he has no fences to practice on.

To prepare for the contest, Antonio and his mother are tracking down plenty of Tom Sawyer items. They've gotten doorknobs, fire crackers, a tin soldier, marbles, a fake cat, a dog collar, a key and more. Robin said they've had to do some research on the classic book to know what they need.

At the national competition, judging consists of 40 percent authenticity of dress, 30 percent for speed of fence painting (or white-washing), and 30 percent for quality of fence painting.

Hannibal's fence painting contest is just one part of the town's National Tom Sawyer Days, which began in 1956. There are also Tom and Becky look-alike contests.

Two contestants from each of the 10 states that border the Mississippi River are invited to participate. The Hannibal Jaycees pay for their participation, and other contestants from non-bordering states are welcome to participate but must pay for their own expenses. Contestants must be between ages 10-13.

The winner of the national competition will receive a $500 savings bond, a big screen TV and a trophy.

Antonio said he competed against about a dozen kids in St. Cloud and is now ready to take on at least 25 at the nationals.

While he hasn't had previous experience, the competition is "just something to be involved in," he said.

Antonio is the son of Cris and Robin Valdez.