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Big event benefits several local charities

For several days now, citizens of Covington County have watched the rides go up at the fairgrounds, replacing an empty field with neon and glitter, empty seats swaying in the wind, summer dust being washed from the awnings. Other than the quiet voices of the carnival workers and the occasional clink and clank of machinery being assembled, it has been quiet.

That changes tonight.

At 5:20 p.m., Kiwanis president Lucky Cope, fellow Kiwanian and fair chairman Tony Wells, an assortment of local dignitaries, and hundreds of eager people will gather before the gate beside the Kiwanis Community Center for the official opening of the 2003 Kiwanis Covington County Fair.

Opening night holds some surprises. The first 100 fairgoers to get admission will ride free the first hour, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. For $12, one person can ride everything until closing. After 8 p.m., only individual tickets will be sold.

A new addition to the fair will be featured tonight. A cheerleading competition featuring local cheerleading teams. It begins at 7 p.m. and will also include a dance competition for the teams.

The Covington County Fair is rich in tradition. Beginning in the late 1920's, it was operated by one individual, but then faded away for a while.

"Prior to the Kiwanis Club starting the first fair in 1963, there hadn't been a fair in about 20 years," said Harry Hinson, who has not only coordinated the fair for many years, was a member at the time. "I've been involved since day one."

One Kiwanian gets special recognition for coming up with the idea of bringing the fair back under the club's auspices.

"It was Bill Renkle who was in the Kiwanis Club at the time, and the real estate business, who was pretty much the ramrod at the time," said Hinson, who added that Renkle later moved to Birmingham. "We took it from there and we've grown ever since."

In a good year, Hinson said, the club gets as much as $90,000 in fair proceeds.

"Of course you understand, every bit of that goes back into the community," he said.

The club uses the proceeds to help pay for the community center building, as well as contributions to local non-profit agencies and scholarship programs.

"In a bad year - like last year - it takes a couple of years to recover from that," Hinson said. "It varies, depending on the weather."

Hinson has been keeping a close eye on the weather prospects and believes it will cooperate, making this a good year for the fair indeed.

The fair hours are: Daily: 5:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. (except Tuesday and Saturday)

Tuesday: 1 p.m. until 10 p.m. Saturday: 1 p.m.until 10 p.m. Sunday: Closed

Admission prices are: Ages 13 and older, $5 Ages 6-12, $3 Under 6 years old, free admission

The schedule for this weekend includes: Thursday, Nov. 6: Ribbon Cutting: 5:20 p.m.; gates open at 5:30 p.m.;

7 p.m.:

Cheerleading competition - cheer and dance. Exhibit building closes at 10 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 7: Gates open at 5:30 p.m. The Ride Special: Pay one price of $12 and ride until closing or buy individual tickets. Individual tickets only sold after 8 p.m. 7 p.m.: Southern Aire - Celtic Band from Robbins AFB, Ga., plays traditional Celtic music. Exhibit building closes at 10 p.m.

Saturday Nov. 8: Gates open at 1 p.m.

High School students and under - admission $1 until 5 p.m. Ride Special: Pay one price of $10 and ride until closing (cannot purchase $10 special after 4:30 p.m.). Pay one price of $12 after 4:30 p.m. and ride until closing or buy individual tickets. Individual tickets only sold after 8 p.m. 3:30 p.m.: 4-H, FFA calf show. 7 p.m.: Hotdog eating contest -Area high school athletic departments. Exhibit building closes at 10:00 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 9: Closed.