One of the most popular events in Imperial Valley, the annual Holtville Athletic Club Rib Cook-Off, will cease activity after a phenomenally successful civic history.
The event has been held in late January in Samaha Park. Proceeds benefitted local youth activities.
(Anthony Wells serves up a delicious rib at the city of Holtville Booth at the 28th annualHoltville Rib Cook-Off on Jan. 26 at Samaha Park in Holtville. WILLIAM ROLLER PHOTO.)
"As for now, it's not continuing," said Rudy Schaffner, the event originator. "We wanted to end on a high note. But 28 years was a good run."
The outdoor cooking extravaganza organized by the club attracted more than 10,000 in recent years and attendees were frequently cautioned to arrive early to assure there were still plenty of available ribs.
For what turned out to be the last edition in January, organizers ordered 300 cases of St. Louis-style pork ribs. Half-block lines gathered in the park by 9:30 a.m.
The event apparently became a victim of its own success, one organizer said.
Efforts required much more than just cooking the day of the event, noted Jose Larios, who was also part of The Misfits grill team with Ross Daniels in January. Planning began before Thanksgiving and as they approached the end of January it took away considerable family time.
"It became kind of a burden for some of the older members," recalled Larios. "I'm 50 and I'm one of the younger ones."
Explaining its success despite the intense work, Schaffner said, "I had so many people come up to me in the community and tell me they wanted to shake my hand. So we had to keep it going."
But the real reward of all the efforts was helping youth as proceeds went to organized activities including Pop Warner football, Little League baseball, school robotics, band, and the FFA.
(Brian Philips prepares tasty treats at the Dessert Booth at the 28th annualHoltville Rib Cook-Off on Jan. 26 at Samaha Park in Holtville. WILLIAM ROLLER PHOTO.)
"Schools get less each year and I don't know what they do if we didn't step up to the plate. It gets kids out doing stuff that gets them excited. We're planning on doing something else but we don't know what just yet," Schaffner added.
Steve Sharp, who works with his father on the family ranch, recalled the first Rib Cook-Off in Holt Park that started with just seven grill teams with him in one of the pit crews.
"That Cook-Off really grew over the years and got as many as 30 teams," remembered Sharp. "It got pretty big and it took a lot of people to put on. We'll truly do something else but it may not be on a grand a scale."
(Oscar Aragon, curly fry prep-cook for the Los Compadres team, keeps busy at the 28th annualHoltville Rib Cook-Off on Jan. 26 at Samaha Park in Holtville. WILLIAM ROLLER PHOTO.)
Members of the youth groups who benefited from the Cook-Off volunteered to help since they were the beneficiaries. Whether it was the cheerleaders assisting set up or the Take Down Club (wrestling) handling the Coca-Cola booth, the Band of Pride manning the lemonade stand, the baseball team unloading ribs or the Sheriff's Explorers who took care of the trash all day, it made them feel good to serve the community.
"There's some people who got involved the last couple of years who said, 'Shoot, you're not doing it anymore? We just got going.' But whatever we do next, we'll have the same people involved,” Sharp said. “It was rare any of the teams kept the prize money ($1,000 winner). They always donated it to the community. And that's the kind of people we had. Every town in Imperial Valley had somebody in the Rib Cook-Off."
The event was always lucky with the weather, though the threat of rain or gusty winds always loomed and one year rain poured just 30 minutes after cleanup, Sharp recalled. Organizers had contemplated stopping after 20 years but then extended the event to 25 years and in 2019 marked 28 years with some talented entertainment including IV Blues, Megan Strahm and True Blues and Eevvaan Tre' & The Show.
(Robin Avila, of El Centro, enjoys a BBQ rib and corn at the 28th annualHoltville Rib Cook-Off on Jan. 26 at Samaha Park in Holtville. WILLIAM ROLLER PHOTO.)
"People took a lot of pride and joy in decorating their own booths," said Sharp. "They really enjoyed getting the community together and making it a success."
Daniels, too, said he is sad to see the demise of the event, though in March he and the Holtville Rotary Club put on the inaugural Pulled Pork Cook-Off in Holt Park.
"We're kicking around the idea of changing the date of our event to the last week in January when the Rib Cook-Off used to take place," he said. "That date could work better because the winter visitors are still around and there would be a bigger turn out. Also, people are accustomed to having a cook-off at that time and it would be cooler weather."
The change of date would be the only difference, Daniels noted. The event would still take place along Holt Road and the park. The Rotary Club will vote for a new president soon and in the next several weeks are likely to consider moving the date for the Pulled Pork Cook-Off, he assured.