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The chant of a champion: Auctioneers face off

Julia Sparks, 17, takes bids on items projected on a screen behind her Friday during the Junior International Auctioneer Championship at the Spokane Convention Center. Sparks is from Canyon, Texas. (Jesse Tinsley)
Julia Sparks, 17, takes bids on items projected on a screen behind her Friday during the Junior International Auctioneer Championship at the Spokane Convention Center. Sparks is from Canyon, Texas. (Jesse Tinsley)

Young auctioneers bid for international title

Instead of nursery rhymes, Julia Sparks may have been lulled to sleep by the quick chant of an auctioneer calling for the highest bid.

With professional and championship auctioneer parents, it was only a matter of time before the 17-year-old Texan followed in the tongue-twisting family business.

Sparks is the daughter of Tom “Spanky” Assiter and Amy Assiter, champion auctioneers who work with the high-rollers at the Barrett-Jackson classic and collector car auctions.

“My mom said she could hear me in my sleep, ‘one down, bidder two, three down,’ ” said Sparks, who competed against two other young women Friday in Spokane to become the first female Junior International Auctioneering Champion.

Also for the first time, all three of the junior competitors at the 24th annual event hosted by the National Auctioneers Association are the children of championship auctioneers.

In addition to the three juniors, the national event highlighted about 85 adult auctioneers at the Spokane Convention Center who competed for the profession’s top honor: the International Auctioneers Championship. The junior division was held before preliminary competitions, as auctioneers took the stage to sell various items. They are judged on their presentation, chant, voice timbre, body language, and their ability to answer interview questions on the spot.

While the adult auctioneers constituted the majority of competitors, the three young women in the junior division captured the show as the future of the auctioneering profession.

“It’s great to see this generation is getting involved in this dying art form,” said Cheri Boots-Sutton, the current World Automobile Auctioneers champion whose daughter Cherlyn is now competing. “An auction is exciting, it is fun. An auctioneer creates that excitement and creates an atmosphere where people want to bid. Without that, you don’t have an auction.”

The mother-daughter duo, from Missouri, will often practice in the car together. Cherlyn Sutton grew up falling asleep under tables at her mother’s auctions and recently decided to follow in the family business. She attended the Texas Auction Academy, where her mother teaches Chant 101.

“It’s remembering the numbers that is the most important, and being able to move from one to the next,” Cherlyn Sutton said. “Your mind has to be ahead all the time.”

And practice, especially for second- and third-generation auctioneers, often begins at home.

“We’ll do it driving down the road, selling fence posts,” said Scott Musser, a championship auctioneer who’s daughter Jacqueline Musser, 18, is competing. The Mussers are from Kennewick and operate Musser Bros., an auction house that runs agriculture-related auctions.

On Friday, auctioneers wandered the halls of the Convention Center, practicing the speedy and monotone singsong of the auctioneer’s chant.

“Most laymen’s exposure to the auction business is in the livestock environment,” Scott Musser said. Usually those are professional buyers who go often and begin to “understand almost anything.”

The trick for the younger generation will be to connect everyday people to the language of the auction, which is really just about getting the highest bid. That is important at benefit auctions.

“Those are my favorite,” Sparks said.

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