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Trainee Kim Tate is surprised by the pull from the balloon as it gets inflated during a training session for balloon crew members at Point Mallard Park on Friday. This was Tate’s first experience handling a hot-air balloon.

Crews prepare for this weekend’s Alabama Jubilee in Decatur

, Decatur Daily

The social media post about the Alabama Jubilee’s “crew school” intrigued Kim Tate and she decided to try it.

“I saw it on Facebook and thought, ‘What a very cool thing to be a part of,’” Tate, 53, from Decatur, said Friday as she learned to help on a hot-air balloon crew. “So far, I’m loving it, even though I got thrown on the ground. … I would say it takes talent to know where to balance when you’re doing these kinds of things and I don’t know that yet.”

Tate said she lost her footing while she was holding a rope tied to the balloon, which was on the ground being inflated.

“It just knocked me off balance; it was a lot of force,” she said. “Once my foot was up, I was down, and it was OK. I fell down and laughed about it; it was a good experience.”

Tate will join other crew members, pilots and spectators at Point Mallard Park on Saturday and Sunday for the 46th annual Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic. The event, which organizers said attracted close to 50,000 people to its Saturday program a year ago, also includes tractor and car shows, an arts and crafts show, and entertainment.

A special training session was held Friday for new crew members to learn how to assist with getting the balloons upright. Three balloons were inflated at Point Mallard. Tate said she enjoyed the training and plans to continue crewing annually. She and her family have lived in Decatur for about 25 years and have come to the Jubilee as spectators many times.

“We love the balloon glow,” she said. “Some years we’ve gone to Point Mallard (water park) during the day and swam and then just walked around and enjoyed all of the activities.”

Mike Wahl, Alabama Jubilee balloonmeister, said there will be four special balloons this year. They will be an armadillo cowboy, a UFO, a bird, and a dog dressed as a fireman. He said there will be 60 balloons this year, which is the maximum.

He said the balloons are coming from as far away as Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Missouri.

“You’ve probably got about eight states (represented) this year,” Wahl said.

A.J. McCloud, Alabama Jubilee vice president, said there are several balloon flights scheduled and many events throughout the day.

“At 10 a.m. (Saturday) is what they call the Parade of Power; it’s like a tractor parade,” McCloud said. “They go across the big field. Kids will be in small tractors, there will be kids driving big tractors; all kinds of tractors and all sizes of tractors.”

A shuttle will be provided both days from the GE Appliances parking lot, beginning at 3 p.m. until the event is over. There is a $2 charge both to and from the park.

Abby Ferrell, 17, from Somerville, has been a part of a balloon crew for three years. Peck Funeral Home in Hartselle always sponsors a balloon, usually the blue one with hummingbirds and flowers, she said, and her father is the assistant manager at Peck. Ferrell said being on the crew has become a family affair.

“He started in 2019 and I fell in love with it,” she said. “I started off just doing it because we got to come out and help, but I fell in love with it so now I just have fun with it.”

Ferrell said she is on the Jubilee committee now and she plans on continuing to be a part of a crew.

“Flying is probably my favorite part, but I just find balloons beautiful,” she said. “This year we have an armadillo sheriff special-shape balloon and it’s probably one of my favorites.”

Ferrell said another favorite part for her is watching people step into the balloons for the first time.

“In the past couple years, I have had kids who have gotten in with their parents,” she said. “When they look straight up into the balloon, and it blows itself up, their face just lights up and it’s so cool.”

Wahl said they still need crew members for the specially shaped balloons.

“It takes six (crew members) for each special shape,” he said.

For more information on becoming a balloon crew member, call Wahl at 256-303-9618.


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