Brisk, sunny weather greeted more than 70 special-needs teens Wednesday morning at the Oklahoma State Fair. Brisk and sunny also described the students, who were hosted by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s service organization that has been bringing special-needs children to the fair for 63 years. "The best thanks we get is from the kids,” said Ernie Chastain, who has coordinated the event the past 12 years. The teens’ admission was free, courtesy of the fair, and the Knights provided hot dogs and ice cream. The teens were excited as they disembarked school buses for their day at the fair. First stop: the petting zoo. Norman High School student Brooke Haddad, 19, hesitantly petted a 9-month-old llama named Becky. She was most interested in the petting zoo’s young zebra. "I’ve seen the movie ‘Madagascar’ and the zebra in the petting zoo looked like Marty in the movie,” she said. Conner Gibson, 19, of Norman North High School, was quick to point out the voice of Marty is actually that of Chris Rock. Gibson said he is an expert in animated movies. After the group made their way through the petting zoo, some headed toward the OG&E WindPower Tower; others went to the pig races. The height of the WindPower Tower scared Eryn Dozier, 12, and Rocio Molina, 13, both sixth-graders from Taft Middle School. But the two were on the edges of their seats at the pig races. "I like to see the pigs race,” Eryn said. Well-trained potbellied pigs — with names such as Hamma Montana, Brad Pigg, David Hasselhog and Sarah Jessica Porker — raced around the Pork Chop International Speedway. They raced toward an Oreo cookie prize to the delight of the spectators cheering for their favorite pigs. But for many of the teens, the petting zoo, tower and pig races were all just distractions from the most exciting part of the fair — the food. David McDonald, 18, a Norman North High School student, had his eye on a slice of pizza and a corn dog. Schoolmate Gibson munched on a basket of chicken fingers and french fries during the pig races. After the teens ate lunch, whether it was the free food provided by the Knights or food they bought on their own, the school groups split up to explore the fair on their own for the rest of the day. "It’s just a great chance for the kids to get out and do something they might not ordinarily get to do,” Knight Lou Falsetti said.
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Seniors swing through fair
Special-needs teens hosted by the Knights of Columbus weren’t the only ones enjoying free admission to the fair Wednesday. It was also 2009 Oklahoma State Fair Senior Citizens’ Day. All seniors 55 and older were admitted to the fair free. "I think it’s great that they give us seniors a break today,” said Edith Connell, 68, of Enid. She was one of hundreds of seniors visiting the fair from all over the state, in groups from retirement centers or on their own. For seniors, the day was full of specials — free Space Tower rides, free refreshments and tram rides. A Seniors With the Most contest awarded seniors with the "most” — the most years, the most children, the most miles traveled and other "most” categories. A Senior Dance Swing had seniors dancing to the tunes of Moonlight Serenade, and a Senior Royalty Contest crowned a king and queen — Joe Mackey of Shawnee and Barbara Ryan of Guthrie.