Connecting the community: Volunteers and unique local performances provide backbone to H.O.T Fair

By KJ Burkley | Reporter, Video by Sarah Gill | Broadcast Reporter

The Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo was back in action this week with its display of fair eats, treats and entertainment for thousands of locals and tourists.

This year, the fair celebrates its 67th anniversary. The H.O.T Fair & Rodeo is held annually at the Extraco Events Center in Waco, and it had over 193,000 in attendance in 2018.

The H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo also has a high amount of local engagement. Dustin Coufal, the vice president of fair divisions said that the way managers plan with a huge help from base volunteers around Waco speaks volumes about how much the Waco and McLennan County area is involved.

“We have 550 volunteers that serve on 24 committees, and the volunteers are the ones who make this thing happen for us,” Coufal said. “Certainly, we work hard and help with those committees, but volunteers are the ones who make this run. They run every aspect — from the rodeo, to the livestock show, to our parking. We couldn’t run the fair without them because they are our backbone.”

That “backbone” worked its best to put on showcases that stopped attendees in their tracks to gaze at the sights and sounds of their events, including the rodeo, a petting zoo and the annual Mutton Bustin’ for kids, along with new attractions like the Timberworks Lumberjacks Olympic Show.

Throughout the hustle and bustle of the crowds, one performing group stood out with its bejeweled Texas flag vests. The Brazos Valley Cloggers, a tap-dancing organization in Central Texas, and H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo veterans took the stage Wednesday night. Group leader Joan Moeller said the atmosphere has kept them coming back every year.

“We just love all of the exhibits, people and the food,” Moeller said. “Everything is just so much fun. The entertainers do a lovely job, and we love to be a part of that year after year.”

The group has been performing at the H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo since 1981. Moeller, who joined the group in 1982, loves that different generations of cloggers have experienced the H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo through the years.

Moeller loves that the community of Waco continues to support the close-knit organization by coming out to the H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo to witness and cheer for their unique performances.

“We do a combination of dance steps from the Appalachian Mountain indigenous culture,” Moeller said. “What makes us so unique is not just the dancing, though. We become a family after a while. We practice twice a week, but everyone looks forward to seeing everybody each day.”

The Brazos Valley Cloggers is just one of the many traditions that attendees can experience through the H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo every October. Coufal, who works directly with all the committees and volunteer programs, says the ultimate expectation for the H.O.T. Fair & Rodeo is to put the patrons first and give them the best experience possible.

“We see people on the fair grounds with a corndog in one hand and a lemonade in the other, and there are kids riding rides. They are having fun,” Coufal said. “We want to continue to provide a quality entertainment avenue for Central Texas. We’ve been around for a long time, and we are going to continue to be around for a long time to produce quality, wholesome family experience for Central Texas to come out for 10 days and enjoy it.”