By John Goodspeed – Express-News
Getting a fruit cup sample seems like a simple thing.
Walk up to a booth at the Family Fair during the 60th annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, which opens today at the AT&T Center, and someone hands it to you with a smile.
But a lot of ingredients go into delivering that tasty treat. A sponsor may need 40 pallets of product to hand out. Deliveries, though, must be made when the grounds are closed to avoid endangering the crowds.
“So our volunteers take forklifts to get the stuff, drive a certain route and stage the pallets behind the scenes to keep the area behind the booths neat and tidy just so you can walk up and say, ‘I’ll have a fruit cup’ — and they’re handing them out all day,” exhibit director Ellen Andrus said.
That is just the tip of the funnel cake at the festival, which helped earn several awards in December, including best of show, from the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. The honor came on the heels of the fourth-in-a-row large indoor rodeo of the year award from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
“Everybody won the IAFE award,” Andrus said. “Family Fair is a major component, but we are all slices of the pie.”
Hers, though, is a heaping serving.
Andrus coordinates activities with more than 1,000 people, including 600 commercial exhibitors, some 120 bands, the carnival, concessionaires and about 200 volunteers.
“There’s no way to do it without them,” she said of her share of almost 5,000 rodeo volunteers.
They began turning an asphalt parking lot into Family Fair four weeks ago with dozens of tents, scores of portable toilets and trash cans, and thousands of plants.
There are no faucets or electrical outlets, so hundreds of yards of hoses and wiring come into play to meet each attraction’s unique needs, from a band’s amplifiers to heaters for the animals in the petting zoo.
“When designing the grounds, I think of it as a mall — you put up anchors,” Andrus said. “You have to have big attractions at the furthest points when you lay out your map.
“And then, along the way, you have to entertain and educate people with an educational exhibit, a food booth, music or a sponsor handing out sample.”
Planning the noise is crucial, too.
“You have to have proper spacing so those Peruvian musicians over here won’t drown out the raffle committee selling tickets over there,” she said. “You can’t be bombarded with too much noise as you walk through the grounds.”
Add it all together and it is a unique event, said Frank Zaitshik, owner of Wade Shows, which operates at more state fairs and major events than any other carnival in America.
“The Family Fair area is different because of the variety of the attractions and entertainment on the grounds,” Zaitshik said. “And it’s all done in a footprint that allows customers to cover all the attractions in a relatively short period of time.
“I may be exaggerating, but at other events they’re a half a mile away from each other.”
Despite the accolades, rodeo officials continue improvements.
One horse barn and part of another were demolished to make way for the stock show’s first climate-controlled facility, a partnership with the rodeo and the Bexar County Community Arenas.
While a tent will house the stalls for this event, officials hope the multiuse facility will be completed in time for the 2010 show.
Plans for the grounds’ part of the venue tax extension approved in May call for renovation of some barns and replacing others with new buildings.
“The key thing about winning those awards is that we did it when everything was falling apart, besides that wonderful AT&T Center,” executive director Keith Martin said. “That means it’s not about the facilities; it’s about the spirit of the volunteers and staff who care so much.”
Those are just the kind of people who make sure the fruit cups are served on time.