Junior chili cooks are invited to try their luck for cash prizes Saturday during the seventh annual Chili Cook-off and Barn Dance at the Ellis County Expo Center.

The Chili Appreciation Society International-sanctioned event benefits the Gingerbread House children’s advocacy center. Besides the junior contest, the event includes three days of CASI-sanctioned adult chili competition (Friday-Sunday) as well as novice and bean contests Saturday. Additional activities include a silent auction and barn dance Saturday evening.

The event sponsor is the North of Waco chili pod, whose president Kay Lefler is encouraging young people (up to age 17) to participate in the cook-off. Each will receive a special gift – and J.D. Atwell Farm Bureau Insurance is again providing cash prizes for the winners.

“In the past years, the junior division has been great and it’s grown so much,” she said. “ The doors will open at 8 a.m. and the turn-in time for the chili will be at 1 p.m.  

“We had 14 cooks last year and we hope to have more this year,” she said. “The awards are great.”

The entry fee is $10, with each participant receiving a T-shirt and flag chair.

Gingerbread House executive director John Wyckoff’s son, Connor, has cooked in the last three junior cook-offs

“I never thought cooking chili could be so fun,” the 13-year-old said. “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 nice that Mr. Atwell sponsors the cash prizes each year. Maybe this year will be my chance for first place,” he said.

John Wyckoff said he’s looking forward to the weekend and invites the community to attend the family-oriented event.

“It’s a fun event, with a lot of activities going on,” he said. “Come out for one day or all three days. 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!”

One of the many activities is the return of the celebrity mechanical bull-riding competition during Saturday night’s barn dance.

This year features separate men and women’s competitions, with trophies to each first place winner.

Competing in his fourth-year of riding the bull is sheriff’s Capt. Danny Williams – who said he’s got his eye on the title and trophy.

“I’ll be going home with that trophy,” he said with a smile, noting he intends to outlast the competition that includes representatives from several law enforcement agencies, county offices, the district attorney’s office, juvenile probation office and local businesses.

Competing in the men’s division are:

•Chris Aldama of Ellis County Juvenile Probation Services

•sheriff’s Capt. Danny Williams

•Corey Allman of J.D. Atwell Farm Bureau Insurance and the Waxahachie Rotary Club

•Darrin Ray of Ellis County Juvenile Probation Services

•Adrian Sanchez of Citizens National Bank

•Mike Jones, deputy constable, Pct. 4

•Bobby Gray of the Waxahachie Police Department

•Todd Evans of the Gingerbread House

•Mike Navarro, Ellis County auditor

•Neal White of the Waxahachie Daily Light

•Jimmy Johnson of Blue Knights Motorcycle Club

•Kris Yells of the Lord’s Gym

•Ben Cowan of Vintage Bank

•Carl Ritchlin of My Neighborhood Credit Union

•Lee Auvenshine of Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office

•Ricky Sipes of the Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office

•Frank Bartolic of Elk Corporation and board member of the Gingerbread House

Competing in the women’s division are:

•Lindy Tober of the Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office

•Amy Nguyen of the Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office

•Cindy Nickell of Citizens National Bank

•Michele Galloway, Justice of the Peace Office, Pct. 2

•Candace Ketchum, Justice of the Peace Office, Pct. 2

•Jenny Grider of Vintage Bank

•Melva Jones, Justice of the Peace Office, Pct. 4

•Minerva Silva of the Midlothian Law Enforcement Center

•Debbie Werkmeister, Justice of the Peace Office, Pct. 2

“The chili cook-off is fun for the whole community,” Wyckoff said. “It’s the coldest part of the year, but it’s one of the warmest days in our town.”

All proceeds from the chili cook-off and barn dance benefit the Gingerbread House, which works with a multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services and other agencies to provide services to child victims of sexual and or serious physical abuse.

For more information on the event, contact the Gingerbread House at 972-937-1870.