The seventh annual Gingerbread House Chili Cookoff and Barn Dance will be held the weekend of Feb. 1-3 at the Ellis County Expo Center in Waxahachie.

In addition to three days of CASI-style chili competition and judging, there will be two evenings of celebrity mechanical bull riding competition, sponsored by My Neighborhood Credit Union. Saturday evening’s events also include a silent auction and barn dance.

All proceeds benefit the Gingerbread House children’s advocacy center, which provides services for child victims of sexual and or serious physical abuse.

“We’re very excited about our upcoming chili cook-off Feb. 1-3,” Gingerbread House board president Bernyce Crownover said. “We believe we will have the best ever over our preceding years. We have had a great response for sponsor tables and the contested mechanical bull riding competition is gaining momentum daily.”

The bull riding competition has been changed to feature both men’s and women’s competition, with 20 and 10 competitors, respectively signed up to vie for bragging rights.

Last year’s champion, Ellis County Juvenile Services chief Chris Aldama said he should repeat as winner because a key competitor, sheriff’s Capt. Danny Williams “is showing his age.”

“If Danny hadn’t already picked his songs to ride by, I would have to have picked him out something by George Michael of Wham or Boy George of Culture Club,” Aldama said.

Williams has his own response to Aldama’s trash-talking, saying, “Wasn’t it Chris who almost got hurt last year when he forgot to take his comb out of his back pocket?”

Williams, who plans to ride to the tunes of “Another One Bites the Dust” and “I Shot the Sheriff,” said he’s looking to wrest the bragging rights away from Aldama and claim the title this year.

“The only reason I let him win last year was I saw him pouting in the corner,” Williams said. “I felt sorry for him, the child that he is.”

Look for additional competition from Aldama’s sidekick, Darrin Ray of Ellis County Juvenile Services.

“He’s looking to win the event this year,” Aldama said. “If I don’t win it again, Darrin’s going to so we keep the trophy in our office.”

On the serious side, both Aldama and Williams said the event is a good cause to support.

“I’d encourage everybody to come out, bring their family and have a good time. I’ve been involved each year and the event keeps getting bigger and drawing more people,” Aldama said, with Williams adding, “It’s for a good cause – it’s helping the kids here in Ellis County.”

Other bull riders scheduled to ride in the men’s division include sheriff’s Capt. Terry Ogden; Ryan Payne of Ellis County Juvenile Services; Corey Allman, representing J.D. Atwell, Farm Bureau Insurance and the Waxahachie Rotary Club; Sgt. Bobby Gray and Ryan Wilmot of Waxahachie Police Department; Todd Evans representing the Gingerbread House; Ellis County Auditor Mike Navarro; Neal White of the Waxahachie Daily Light; Lee Auvenshine and Ricky Sipes of the Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office; Tyler Maxfield of Comerica Bank; Ben Cowan of Vintage Bank; Carl Ritchlin of My Neighborhood Credit Union; and Mark Odom of Mark Odom Studio.

Signed up to compete so far in the women’s division are Lindy Tober, Amber Wilmot and Amy Nguyen of the Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office; Michele Galloway and Candace Ketchum of Justice of the Peace Office Pct. 2; Jenny Grider of Vintage Bank; and Holly Odom of Mark Odom Studio.

Crownover and the other board members encourage the community to attend the family-oriented event, which also includes a variety of children’s activities such as a bounce house, games and face painting, along with a visit from McGruff the Crime Dog on Saturday. Young people also have the opportunity to participate in their own chili cook-off competition on Saturday.

“I never thought cooking chili could be so much fun,” said Connor Wyckoff, 13, who’s cooked several years in a row now. “I’ve cooked by myself before and also with a friend of mine two years ago. I kept fooling with people about our secret ingredient. And it’s so nice that Mr. (J.D.) Atwell sponsors the cash prizes each year. Maybe this year will be my chance for first place!”

Indeed, the annual event features a full slate of activities for everyone’s enjoyment.

“We also have a silent auction with many assorted items, which will be open Friday evening and all day Saturday until 9 p.m.,” Crownover said, extending an invitation and noting tickets to the barn dance are still available. “Everyone needs to come on out and enjoy the music and be ready to hit the dance floor.”

Admission to the three days of chili cook-offs is free, with a general admission charge of $10 per person (advance price) for the barn dance Saturday night. Tickets are $15 at the door for the dance, which will feature the final round of the celebrity mechanical bull riding competition as well as music by a live DJ, sponsored by Comerica Bank.

Special barn dance tickets that include a prime rib dinner are available for $30 per person. The dinner tickets need to be purchased by 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, to allow for a head count.

Regular concessions will be available throughout the weekend, from 5-9 p.m. Friday and from 7 a.m.-midnight Saturday.

Returning as emcee for the bull riding competition is barn dance co-founder Constable Pct. 2 Terry Nay.

“I’ve got to study (the bull riding) list and come up with some good nicknames,” said Nay, explaining that he doesn’t ride “because my wife (Jamie) won’t let me. The boss said ‘no’ to that one. She said she needs me to take the kids to school in the morning and ‘No broke legs for you.’ ”

Nay and his family have been involved with the Gingerbread House and its major annual fundraiser since its inception.

“I just encourage everyone to come out,” he said. “It’s a great organization and a great cause – and you’ll have a great time. The Chili Cook-off and Barn Dance have become an Ellis County tradition. It’s good fun, good music and good chili.”

Center executive director John Wyckoff said he and the board appreciate the community’s support of the center, which recently moved into its new offices on the corner of Ross and Farley streets.

“In some ways, it doesn’t seem like a year has passed since last year’s event, probably because we moved into our new building last month,” he said. “CASI and the NOW Pod have been such wonderful supporters of our center and it’s hard to believe that this is our seventh annual Chili Cook-off and Barn Dance.”

The annual fundraiser started out as a one-day chili competition with a barn dance that night, Wyckoff recalled, noting its expansion through the years to a full weekend event.

“It’s a weekend of fun and it’s always so nice to see old friends each year and catch up with many of them,” he said. “And, of course, there is always the trash talkin’ among the bull riders. I know the reigning champ, Chris Aldama, has made it known that there is no way he gives up his championship this year. I guess we’ll find out on Friday night what the other bull riders have to say about that.”

Sponsor tables for Saturday’s barn dance – which includes the silent auction and bull riding finals – are still available at several levels, ranging from bronze ($250) to platinum ($2,500). Current sponsors include Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., KBEC 1390, Comerica Bank, My Neighborhood Credit Union, Allen Samuels Autoplex, Elk Corporation of Texas, Vintage Bank, the Nay Company, Citizens National Bank, Greenridge Homes, Texas Nameplate, Estes Electric, Schirm USA, Gus and Katherine Jones, Southwest Securities FSB, Loucks and Drew PLLC, state Rep. Jim Pitts, Ellis County Insurance Agency, David Thornhill, J.D. Atwell and Farm Bureau Insurance, Atmos Energy Corporation, Ron Langenheder, Roxanne Wyckoff, Mark Odom Studio and Norma Epstein, realtor, Remax of Ennis.

A prime rib dinner is included with the sponsor tables.

“Come on out for one day or for all three,” Wyckoff said. “The cook-offs are free to attend, we’re always looking for chili judges and the barn dance is a deal you can’t pass up!”

For further information about the event, including sponsorships, judging, volunteering or donations, call the center at 972-937-1870.

Daily Light Managing Editor JoAnn Livingston contributed to this report.

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