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Opening Night at Manatee County Fair a hit

PALMETTO -- A beaming Crystal Ritchie of Bradenton stood in Mosaic Arena with cell phone in hand to record her teen daughter, Kelsey Ritchie. as the 17-year-old junior from Braden River High School walked in a pen to show her pig named Trouble at the Youth Livestock Program.

Other pigs were led by their caretakers. A few, made nervous by all the activity around them, ran instead of walking.

It was Opening Night of the 2015 Manatee County Fair at the Manatee County Fairgrounds, 1402 14th Ave. W., Palmetto, and the bleachers were packed with spectators.

When Kelsey won second place in her group, her mother and grandparents, Barbara and David Ritchie of Bradenton, clapped and cheered.

"I'm ecstatic right now. This is actually her first year in FFA. ... so to be a first-timer doing this, she's doing absolutely fabulous," 33-year-old Crystal Ritchie said in reference to the Future Farmers of America program. "She's raised her pig from a newborn baby till now. Now she's got to part with him, so it's kind of sad, but she's been out there everyday, morning and night since she got him."

Kelsey's grandmother Barbara Ritchie, was excited, too, she said. The registered nurse said she was confident her granddaughter would rank highly in the competition.

"I know nothing about a pig. I just know with her dedication and showmanship, I'm not surprised," the 58-year-old said.

Just outside the arena stood 35-year-old Palmetto resident Louis Marello with son, Weston, in his arms. The 2-year-old clung to a tall fence, eyes fixated on nearby cows.

"He wanted to go to the fair all week," Marello said of his son. "We come for the exhibits and the cows."

Marello grew up in the area and has been coming to the Manatee County Fair all his life, he said.

"It's a good theme so we'll probably be coming quite a

bit, actually," he added.

Now in its 99th year, the fair theme is "Put Some Ag in Your Culture!" The phrase spotlights the vast agricultural industry in Manatee County.

All along the Midway, people sat at tables eating and chatting. Lit-up food stands sold everything from funnel cake to Italian sausages.

Farther down were all sorts of rides, including a giant Ferris wheel and a classic carousel.

Yvette Taplin, who lives in upstate New York, stood inside The Original Barbie's Ice Cream Shoppe. This is the 44-year-old's first time working at Manatee County Fair. Despite the chilly weather dipping down to the mid-50s, ice cream was a hit Thursday.

"Not bad for being cold. I wouldn't think anybody would want ice cream on a cold day," she said with a chuckle. "We've had more ice cream and shakes (sold) than we have anything else yet."

Inside Exhibition Hall, a slew of agencies, community groups and businesses had tables. At the far end was a large stand by Manatee County government with Commissioners Carol Whitmore and John Chappie speaking with locals who stopped by.

"It feels good as always," Whitmore said of being at the fair. "I've been coming here since I was 15 years old."

Working the fair provides a different perspective, the county official said.

"The first five minutes I got here, I went and got a corn dog and I enjoyed the food as always," Whitmore added, "because that's just all part of being at the fair."

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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