Evening kickoff a special treat for balloon race fans

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 17, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; Balloonists and their crews gathered Friday night to blow off a little propane before the races begin.

The racing is for the participants, but the balloon glow is all for the fans.

&8221;The kids really like it. It’s a chance for them to get up really close to the balloons and talk to the people and find out what it’s like,&8220; Linda James of Auburn, Ind., said.

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James really likes it, too. This is her fourth trip of the year to crew for Harry Moran on the Baton Rouge-based Zephyrus. Moran and his balloon’s owner, his wife Cindy, are glad to have won a fan to the sport.

Families picnicking on top of the bluff watched as balloon teams methodically went about the work of getting the giant craft airborne. By dark, nearly 20 balloons floated side by side, shooting off occasional blasts of fire to warm the air inside and keep afloat.

Jamar Jordan liked the blue one the best. His sister, Taylor Warner, preferred the pink, green and white one right next to it. Jamar let out a gasp when one of the balloons down the hill hit the propane switch, sending a jet of fire into the chute. His brother, P.J. Strickland, didn’t share his sentiment, sitting with his thumbs in his ears and his index fingers protecting his eyes.

They all agreed &045; P.J. abstained from the tally &045;

they enjoy the show and come every year, except those years they don’t.

This is the first year for the Fitzmorris family, but they like what they see so far.

Newcomers from St. Tammany Parish, they had never seen a spectacle like this.

&8221;I’ve probably seen about four of them once on a science book when I was a kid,&8220; father James said.

His daughters love looking, but have no desire to actually go up. Both cited a fear of heights.

No one was going anywhere Friday night, however, the balloons’ only purpose was to put on a show for each other and the fans.

The show wouldn’t be possible without the huge number of locals who volunteer to do the dirty work necessary to get a 100,000 square foot balloon off the ground.

This is Robby Robertson’s seventh year volunteering. He has no plans to stop anytime soon. When asked what made the glow special, he knew who the star of the show was.

&8221;The fun and excitement of the balloons and the faces people have when they see the balloons,&8220; he said.

The 2005 Great Mississippi River Balloon Race begins today a 7 a.m. flight. Entertainment begins at noon at Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens. There is another flight scheduled for 4 p.m.

Ticket prices are as follows:

4Adults 13 years and up: Friday $5; Saturday $15; Sunday $10; Weekend Pass $25

4Children age 7-12:

Friday $1; Saturday $3; Sunday $3; Weekend Pass $5

4Free admission to children age 6 and under.