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Organizers hope barbecue event draws huge crowd to Gainesville
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Erik Nemecek, front, Jediah Carling, on truck, and Scott Miller load barricades to put up around the perimeter of the Brenau Barbecue Championship, which will be held Friday and Saturday on the school’s campus. - photo by Tom Reed

Competition heats up, Read more
What: Barbecue cook-off and community festival
When: 5 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Brenau University, 500 Washington St., Gainesville
How much: $10 preview party Friday; $5 Saturday

At this weekend’s Brenau Barbecue Championship, the question isn’t what is there to do, but what isn’t there to do?

Packed with music, food, an auto show, a cooking competition, a cooking class, free health screenings and activities for children, this year’s event is expected to draw two or three times more than last year’s 3,000 attendees.

“I don’t necessarily believe that bigger is better, but it’s great if years down the road this competition is the keystone of a weeklong series of events to kick off the summer,” said Jim Barco, Brenau Barbecue Championship director and senior vice president of institutional development at the school. “I think teachers and students especially like to celebrate that.”

The event started last year after Barco visited Brenau donors in southern Mississippi and asked about dozens of tables in the front yard. When Barco found out it was a barbecue fundraiser for the local symphony, “a light bulb went off,” he said. He and others at Brenau became certified barbecue judges and traveled to festivals around the state. Though he loves the food, Barco said his focus is on the students.

“Young people deserve others to be involved in their lives,” he said. “If we could raise more money doing kite flying or Hula-Hooping, we would. The best education costs money.”

Last year’s event raised $20,000 for scholarships, and this year’s goal is $100,000.

“We know that if a local student comes here, she’s more likely to stay in the community, build a family and be a contributing member of society,” Barco said. “These women are going to be nurses, educators and artisans, so it’s a benefit to us all. The higher education affects how they go to the ballot box and how they raise their children.”

Barco wanted a signature community event as well. Although a barbecue competition isn’t unique to Gainesville or Brenau, he said this “just caught people’s imagination.”

“I doubt that the bulk of people knew what it would be last year,” he said. “For some, it was a homecoming and they saw people they hadn’t seen in 10 years. For others, they actually saw people they didn’t know and were able to meet others in the community.”

Barco said he expects about 1,200 people to show up for Friday night’s preview and possibly 7,000 for Saturday’s daylong event. A shuttle service will transport those who park at the downtown parking deck. The effect on the local economy isn’t bad either, he said.

“I think we’ve sold out a couple of hotels, but there may be some weddings in town this weekend, too,” Barco said with a laugh. “But in a philosophical sense, there’s the economic impact of helping local young people to better afford a higher education, which grows the community in an intellectual, social and emotional way.”

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