Ribfest brings the heat

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The summer heat continued unabated, but the Tillsonburg Ribfest, July 13-15, gave locals a food respite.

The annual Ribfest held at the Tillsonburg Fairgrounds was a free event organized by the Tillsonburg Thunder hockey team, which plays in the WOAA Sr. AA men’s hockey league. It serves as a fundraiser for the Thunder and helps give people of Tillsonburg a festival during the summer months. In the three years since the team took over, the event has continued to grow.

“This has grown every year,” Thunder team president Michael Holly said. “It’s become a premier event in town.”

The team took over the event after its first year and it’s become a major fundraiser to help cover costs like ice, referees, equipment and travel during the season.

Holly and Thunder general manager Bill Ryan said about 25 volunteers help out with the various tasks needed to make the event a success.

“We appreciate all the help since no team survives without their volunteers and they all do it for the community,” Holly said.


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Now in year four, they look to add to it each year. The vendors increased to 40 this year after having 30 the previous year. Musicians play throughout the weekend, with a beer tent on site. Kids and adult rib eating contests took place Sunday and ribs were available at all hours.

While one rib company pulled out Wednesday night due to confusion of dates, Holly said Ribs Royale stepped up to bring in another cooking crew and smoker to make up the difference.

Holly and Ryan estimated between 4,000 to 5,000 people passed through on the weekend making it a staple in the summer event calendar for Tillsonburg.

“People respect and appreciate it,” Ryan said, adding it helps the Thunder stay in the community’s minds during the summer months. “You see it during the season with a lot of people coming out to support the team.”

For each of the volunteers, it’s a labour of love. Anyone involved in local hockey knows the time and effort can rival that of a full-time job, but it’s rewarding in helping create a sense of community.

“You do it for the community. I remember going to senior hockey games with my dad and seeing the Cambridge Hornets and the Preston Jesters,” Ryan said. “You do it so family’s can have memories and it gives you a fondness for your community.”

Though it’s an enjoyable time for those involved, there’s little layoff for planning of the next event.

“Tomorrow,” Ryan said with a laugh when asked when they start planning for the following year.

“We’ll get together next week to see what we did right or what we did wrong or how we can improve,” Holly added. “If people have feedback, we always want people to reach out to make it better. We try to accommodate as best we can. It’s a family event.

“Come out and support the hockey team,” he added. “It’s really good hockey with a lot of local guys and players who have played at high levels.”


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