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Color the skies
Balloon festival continues until 1 p.m. today
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A crowd of people can be seen on the high mound of dirt in the background as others crowd in on the balloons as they are being inflated by their individual burners. - photo by GLENN KAHL

RIPON - Holding the palms of his hands over his ears to soften the roar of the flame shooting into his hot air balloon, 7-year-old poster boy Adham Hamza had the thrill of his life during the opening day of the Color the Skies balloon festival Saturday.

The official ambassador for the event, Adham developed brain cancer when he was only eight months old. He was being treated at the Children’s Hospital of Central California in Madera.

Eleven balloons were launched from Mistlin Park in Ripon right after dawn with crowds of excited enthusiasts filling the park with cameras in hand.

It was the sixth balloon festival to be held in Ripon that was first organized by Jessica Coleman in her relentless drive to help children in crisis from cancer. She again spent her entire year preparing for the 2011 event that will continue this morning and run through the day with scheduled events from 6 a.m. to past noon.

Little Adham said he was excited to see the Ripon water tower as his balloon piloted by David Wakefield of Sacramento headed southeastward and landed in Salida.

“We were at 600 feet, yep, we did it,” he said of his ride as he later ate breakfast with his Dad back at the festival grounds. “Dad actually had fun too,” he said. “I can’t believe not everyone comes here.”

At such a young age Adham knows he wants to be a chef on a cruise ship. He asked if I liked to eat fish, specifically tilapia. He said he was too young to cook by himself.

“I help cook,” he said and then offered the best way to fix his favorite fish. This was the basis of the conversation as he finished his pancakes, eggs and sausage in the morning sun.

“Wrap ‘em in banana leaves with lots of veggies on top. Put just a drop of white wine on top to give it more flavor and then put it in the oven,” he said very matter of fact.

The young cancer survivor speaks three languages fluently including Arabic and English, his father and Turlock dentist Samer Hamza said.

He was quick to mention “it was pretty neat” they had landed the hospital’s balloon between the almond trees that was near Bangs Road in Salida. Pilot David Wakefield had explained that they were flying low beyond Hammet Road when he saw another crew below who offered to help him land. He said he dropped a guide line over the side and they made a perfect landing with the help he didn’t expect.

“I hope to see you again tomorrow,” he said as we parted company with the boy telling his dad he wanted to play now and to go on some of the rides on the fairway. And then he wanted to go down and see the helicopter as he ran ahead of his father with no evident lack of energy.

The two-day festival was in hopes of raising $100,000 for the children’s hospital that serves the Manteca and Ripon areas as well as much of the Central Valley.

Balloon teams came from as far away as Utah, Santa Rosa, Woodland, South Dakota and Huntington Beach.

There is a full schedule on the agenda again today with the Save Mart Pancake Breakfast set to open at 6 a.m. and last until 11. The vendor booths are opening at the same time. Between 6:30 and 7:30 the hot air balloon crews will be inflating their units and preparing for launch.

The National Anthem is to be sung for a second time by Sarah Maxon.

The Team Too Much Fun Kite Performance is set for 8:15.

Sparkles and Ravioli Clown Show is scheduled to be on stage at 8:40 followed by the Desert Wind Dancers. The Bay Area Sky Diving Team will “hit the silk” promptly at 9 a.m. with some eight sky divers putting on their show on the turf area of Mistlin Park.

After they have all safely landed the Wild Wonders Animal Show is on tap. It will be followed at 9:30 by Zumbathon/Minute to Win It Contests by Kid Red. At 9:45 Sparkles and Ravioli Clown Show will make its second performance.

The Air George medical helicopter is set to land on the turf at 10:15 with Fantastic Gymnastics set to be performed immediately after.

At 10:45 the Team Too Much Fun Kite performance is scheduled again and the Wild Wonders Animal show is planned for 11:10. A Color the Skies Tri-Tip Sandwich Lunch will be held from 11 until 1 p.m. The Eternal Praise Hula Ministry goes on stage at 11:45 followed again by Team Too Much Fun Kite Performance and the Wild Wonders Animal Show.

Saturday included a one mile run in the morning along with a 5K run. A children’s Fun Run was a popular activity on the first day of the event. The Patriots jet fighter demonstration was also a much appreciated part of the day.