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HAMMOND — A university system that produces astronauts and quarterbacks can now pride itself on one other field of distinction — cupcakes.

Not just any cupcake, mind you, but a Hostess CupCake.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Hostess CupCake, the intramural sports department at Purdue University Northwest sponsored a Hostess CupCake-eating contest Thursday at the Student Union cafeteria.

Or, in the immortal words of one contestant ,“Who cares? Free cupcakes!”

Since 2008, Purdue’s Hammond Campus has hosted a Hostess eating contest, from Twinkies to Ding Dongs to Ho Hos.

“This year, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Hostess CupCake, we decided to go with that,” said Matt Dudzik, Hammond PNW director of intramurals.

The contest is simple enough. Participants have three minutes to eat as many cupcakes as they can. Those initial eight cupcakes are unwrapped prior to competition. Anyone needing more cupcakes opens them during the three-minute period. Participants can drink something to wash down the cupcakes, but any regurgitating disqualifies the contestant, regardless of the number eaten.

After three minutes Thursday night, the 2019 champ was Nathan Doan, 20 a junior mechanical engineering major from Hammond. Doan downed 15 cupcakes; the next closest competitor finished 10.

“My friends pressured me,” said Doan, a first-time contestant who describes himself as an “occasional” big eater. “I decided, why not, go for it. I like cupcakes.”

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A “big dipper” during the competition, Doan explained his strategy: “Dipping them in water usually makes them easy to break up.”

Topping a field of 17 competitors, Doan will receive a trophy, complete with Hostess Cupcakes at the top, engraved with his name, the date of the contest and the number of cupcakes he finished.

What’s so special about a Hostess CupCake? That’s the original Hostess sweet treat. In 1919, the company founded in 1849 as the New York-based Ward Baking Co. and later known as Continental Baking Co. began selling what would become the Hostess CupCake. That devil’s food cake, whose signature frosting swirl was not introduced until 1950, is believed to be the first snack cake brought to market.

The company ran into financial problems early in this century, and in 2012 the company shuttered, leaving Hostess CupCake and Twinkie lovers in snack limbo. The company, known today as Hostess Brands, re-emerged in 2013.

Dudzik, whose intramural program involves more than 1,500 students, said PNW began this fundraiser when Hostess was going through rough times “as a way of keeping them in business.”

He added, “Everyone seems to like Twinkies, so we went with that.”

PNW purchased 60 boxes, with eight cupcakes in each box, for the 2019 contest. Another 40 boxes went to promote the benefit around campus.

Mitchell Hutson, 18, a freshman history education major from Chicago, thought the contest would be fun, so he signed up. “I’m just here to eat and see what happens,” he said. “I’m a long-distance eater. I can eat a lot in a long period of time, but not fast.”

Ria Gilliam, 18, a freshman advertising and marketing major from Valparaiso, was riding in a car with friends when she learned of the competition. “I said, I can do this,” she noted. “Plus, it’s cool to get involved.”

The contest drew an international crowd. Sun Jeong, 20, an exchange student from Korea studying business, decided to take part. “I like cupcakes, and I just wanted to see how many I could eat,” she said. “The contest was pretty nice, and the cupcakes were yummy.”

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