More than 18,000 people plowed through the gates of the North Texas Fair and Rodeo during opening night Friday, and many more ventured out Saturday.
Strong entertainment and pleasant weather are two factors that officials said contributed to the large crowds.
Glenn Carlton, executive director of the fair, said opening-night attendance was record-breaking — 40 percent higher than in 2012, and 20 percent higher than average.
He said that people young and old, families and young couples are all coming out.
On Saturday morning, many youths were at the First State Bank Livestock Pavilion preparing to show their steers in junior and senior “jackpot” showmanship rounds.
Officials said the competition’s entry fee was $5 per head, and winner takes all. In junior showmanship, the grand prize was $60, and the senior division prize was $115.
Huntor Watson, a 16-year-old from Ralls, about 30 miles west of Lubbock, said winning the showmanship honor felt great.
“My hard work and dedication really paid off,” he said shortly after the judge selected him for best showmanship in the senior category.
Watson said he has been showing stock for five years and is the third generation in his family to do so.
“It’s a family tradition,” he said.
Jon Gevelinger, a livestock judge for 10 years, said the reason he picked Watson was because the teen had the least amount of movement.
“In a showmanship, you are judging the person, not the animal,” he said. “You want them to move as natural as possible.”
Gevelinger said he looks at the overall position of a steer and where the four feet are placed with each animal.
From youth livestock events to concerts, midway rides and rodeo events, the fair is the place to be, organizers said.
Carlton said the first day ran smoothly and feels the five new credit card machines at the gates this year were part of the reason.
“We have been known as a cash-only event, but we are aware younger people don’t generally keep cash on them,” he said.
The machines, Carlton said, cost about $500 each, but they had already paid for themselves tenfold during opening night.
“They did so well I am hoping to have 10 by next weekend,” he said.
He said what fair officials really have to look at is attendance for Sunday.
Last year, rain on the first Saturday of the fair hampered many of the activities, but the next day the fair set a record for attendance.
“Now we just have to wait and see what the rest of the weekend holds, and count our blessings for this weather God has given us,” he said.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.