Looking for a great way to spend a weekend?

Join hundreds more people from around the community and across the state at the upcoming sixth annual Chili Cook-Off and Barn Dance to benefit the Gingerbread House children’s advocacy center.

“One of the fun things about our chili cook-off each year is the number of people who return each year to judge chili for us,” said John Wyckoff, the center’s executive director. “In fact, there are a few people who judge chili on all three days. They just love chili and it helps us in providing judges for our cook-offs.”

The event is set for Feb. 2-4 at the Ellis County Expo Center in Waxahachie. The gates open at 4 p.m. Friday for the Chili Appreciation Society International-sanctioned meet, with chili competitions Friday, Saturday and Sunday, allowing cooks the opportunity to earn points on three different days toward the world championships held each year in Terlingua.

Saturday’s competition will also include novice and junior divisions - with the community invited to participate by signing up as a cook or by volunteering to judge on any or all three days.

Each year the chili cook-off has grown in popularity, with numerous competitors coming from across the southwest to participate in this signature benefit event for the Gingerbread House, which serves child victims of sexual and/or serious physical abuse.

“I can’t say enough about CASI and how supportive they have been these past six years. It’s hard to believe that the first plans for our cook-off and barn dance came about while we were having lunch at a local Chinese restaurant,” Wyckoff said. “The idea was pitched to me, I presented it to my board, and here we are six years later. And our barn dance came about due to an idea that Jackie Miller Jr. and Terry Nay had about adding an evening event to our weekend event.”

This will be the fourth year for the event’s local celebrity mechanical bull riding competition, which has grown to include two evenings of good-natured competition.

“One of the highlights of our weekend event is our local celebrity mechanical bull riding competition,” Wyckoff said. “I appreciate our volunteer bull riders competing in this event and the trash talk that results from the competition gets more comical each year.”

Twenty-five people have signed up to compete at this year’s competition, with each competing Friday night in hopes of advancing to the Saturday night finals.

“And those top 10 bull riders who advance to Saturday night, the songs they choose for their rides are always interesting and fun,” Wyckoff said.

Among those signed up for this year are co-workers Manuela Martin and Debbie Werkmeister, both of whom work for Miller at the justice of the peace, Pct. 2, office.

On Monday, Werkmeister - who returns for her second year of competition - and the debuting Martin said they were happy to support the Gingerbread House’s efforts. They also said they expect to hold their own against the mostly male competition.

The two laughed about the rivalry that seems to renew itself each year between sheriff’s Capt. Danny Williams and Juvenile Probation Chief Chris Aldama.

“You never know, they might get beat,” Martin said of her and Werkmeister’s chances to best Williams and Aldama in the competition.

Admission to the chili cook-offs Friday, Saturday and Sunday is free. Besides the chili competition, the event features fun and games for children on Saturday, including a bounce house and face painting.

Tickets for the barn dance Saturday night, when the local celebrity mechanical bull riding finals also will be held, are $10 per person in advance and $15 at the door, with children age 12 and younger admitted free.

The silent auction begins Friday and wraps up Saturday evening during the barn dance, which will feature musical entertainment provided by disc jockey Ed Petty of Encore Productions.

Concessions are available throughout the weekend.

Sponsorships are available from $250 to $2,500 and include tickets and a reserved table(s) and beverages for the barn dance. The $500 level and above include hors d’ouevres for the dance and the center’s historical courthouse throw.

Wyckoff said the community’s support is appreciated, and he encourages people to attend and enjoy themselves - and to bring along their families and friends.

“We always have fun for the children who come to watch their parents cook or judge chili,” he said. “We have the bounce house again, as well as face painting and the concession stand is always a big hit with the children. And, of course, the mechanical bull riding vendor is open for business throughout the weekend.

“So, if you interested in judging chili, riding the bull or dancing to some oldies on Saturday night, come join us at the Ellis County Expo Center,” Wyckoff said, noting the drawing for the center’s annual lawn mower raffle will be held during the event as well.

Tickets for the lawn mower raffle and the barn dance are available from any board member, at the Gingerbread House office or at the Daily Light.

For more information on sponsorships, e-mail Wyckoff at john.eccac@ectisp.net.

For additional information on tickets, volunteering, judging and silent auction donations, e-mail Evans at teresa.eccac@ectisp.net.

To contact the center, call (972) 937-1870.

E-mail JoAnn at editor@waxahachiedailylight.com