HITCHCOCK — Jonathan McClellan kept a determined look on his face as a volunteer fastened his helmet and ushered him inside the sheep pen.

The 6-year-old from Spring had prepared for his first mutton bustin’ competition by riding his mom’s back around their house.

”He’ll hold onto my neck with his legs straight out” his mom Michelle Phoenix said. ”He already told me ‘Momma I got to get a sheep this summer.’ The more he wants to get on my back the more I want a sheep.”

The practice paid off.

McClellan held a steadfast grip to the sheep’s neck for eight seconds before the animal came to a halt.

Opening-weekend crowds for the 73rd annual Galveston County Fair and Rodeo at Jack Brooks Park in Hitchcock trumped last year’s attendance which was sparse because of a rainy first weekend fair President Paul Tibaldo said.

About 8000 people attended Friday’s opening and the same number of patrons had already shown up by noon Saturday.

Organizers said they expected 12000 attendants to head through the fair gates by Saturday’s end.

Commercial booth spaces sold out faster than normal this year and more than half of the vendors already have committed to returning for next year’s fair Tibaldo said.

”Most of our people come back year after year” he said. ”They’ll want to put their spot in for next year before they leave here.”

The annual event will feature seven more days of live entertainment rodeo performances livestock shows cook-offs and carnival rides.

This year 560 4-H Club and FFA youth exhibitors will compete in seven livestock shows including steer lambs and pigs. The top winners in each category will be sold at the Junior Livestock Auction.

Jody Herrington’s son Connor entered animals in this year’s market rabbit and market swine competitions.

”This keeps the youth out of trouble” Herrington of Santa Fe said. ”It gives them something to do and teaches them how to take care of something. Raising an animal is a full-time project.”

Carmen Harrity 15 is a veteran of the fair’s market rabbit competition.

She has raised rabbits for the competition since she was 8. Harrity’s rabbits were named grand champion in 2009 and last year the Santa Fe native took home the reserve champion prize.

This year Harrity raised turkeys and a goat for the fair.

”Whenever you win you come back with the excitement to see if you’re going to win the next year” she said. ”This is my favorite time of year. It’s more exciting than anything else even Christmas.”

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Admission

Ticket includes admission to rodeos fair entertainment and cook-off.

Weekly Fair Passes

Ages 13-61 is $40

Ages 6-12 and seniors 62 and older is $20

Sunday half price day

Ages 13-61 is $5

Ages 6-12 and seniors 62 and older is $2

Ages 5 and younger are admitted free

Monday-Wednesday family nights

$2 general admission

Ages 5 and younger are admitted free

Thursday-Saturday

Ages 13-61 is $10

Ages 6-12 and seniors 62 and older is $5

Ages 5 and younger are admitted free

For a complete list of fair activities visit www.galvestoncountyfair.com.

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