Thousands Attend Holtville Athletic Club’s Rib Cook Off

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Volunteers work the grill laying on slabs of ribs that were devoured by the hungry attendees and chased later in the day by scoops of homemade ice cream.
HOLTVILLE — Holtville Athletic Club’s Rib Cook Off drew thousands of visitors to Samaha Park Saturday to feast on pork ribs prepared and cooked by 17 competitors vying for claims to “best tasting ribs.”
El Centro resident Octavio Sam sat quietly on a bale of hay eating a rib. It was his eighth. “It’s good. Really good.” 
Sam was prepared. He came wearing his t-shirt printed with the message, “I love BBQ.” He brought his family, including his granddaughter, Vienna Piedra, who was munching on her third rib. “My favorite is the Rednek Ribs,” she said. “It was thoroughly cooked and soft.” Two other family members were seated next to them. 
Hundreds of other families like them, sat on hay bales to consume pork ribs and some side dishes of asparagus and macaroni, among others. In addition to pork ribs, other agencies and vendors offered chicken, fish tacos, home made ice cream, and games. 
Young children didn’t appear to mind the rib sauce smearing their faces. Their parents didn’t mind either. 
On the far side corner of Samaha Park sat the “Rednek Ribs” booth. Volunteers were briskly serving customers with their recipes of ribs and side dishes. Smoke billowed from several grills that attracted more customers — creating long lines of people waiting for the ribs to cook.    
Tony Gomez was inside an orange enclosure at the Rednek Ribs booth where volunteers monitored pork ribs cooking at varying degrees of tenderness. Gomez, a volunteer cook for the past 16 years who works for Vic’s AC and electrical, continuously checked the ribs, unmindful of the smoke coming from the grill. The aroma spread throughout Samaha Park.
Chase Schaffner, a member of the Holtville Athletic Club, estimated about 20,000 people came in and out throughout the day. Others ate ribs as they listened to bands playing on a trailer converted into a stage. 
Some brought their home-cooked ribs. Sylvia Estrada and her daughter Abigail Andrade brought several plates of ribs. It was Andrade’s first visit to the cook off. 
Bob Horn and his wife, Connie, came from Yuma, Arizona. He commented on the ribs he was eating. “It is really good. It’s a little messy but we’re enjoying it.” Connie took out a wet wipe for her husband.  
Schaffner said he was a one-year-old toddler when his father brought him to the first Holtville Athletic Club Rib Cook Off at Holt Park 26 years ago. There were only five teams competing then. Throughout the years, the contest grew and had to move to a larger venue —Samaha Park— to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. 
“Unlike other rib cook offs they have throughout the United States,” Schaffner said, “this is the only event that’s put on entirely by volunteers. One hundred percent of the money goes back to the kids in the community in Imperial Valley.”
As noontime approached, people began trickle down and head home, hopefully full and content, with clothes that carried the aroma of their favorite ribs.