Thousands of people enjoyed an evening balloon launch amid minimal winds Friday on the first night of the 2018 Balloon Classic at Kent State University Stark campus.

JACKSON TWP. The weather always dictates whether hot-air balloons will be able to launch at each annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival Balloon Classic.

On Friday evening, the conditions at Kent State University Stark campus were in a generous spirit, with a gentle breeze to the east.

The event's field announcer Bill Smith, also a Stark County commissioner and a veteran balloonist himself, told the crowd of thousands shortly after 6:30 p.m. that the balloon launch of about 50 hot-air balloons likely was on.

On the field, David Troutman, of Louisville, Ky.., and his crew began to inflate with cold air his Celtic Cross balloon sponsored by Kent State University at Stark. He was designated the lead balloon. Once he landed in a suitable open area, he would mark an X on the spot and part of the competition would be for other balloonists to follow and try to land bean bags on that X for points. The winning balloonist and sponsor would get watches.

The contest throughout the weekend award points based on dropping bean bags on certain targets or even dropping a ring onto a pole. The top winners would claim $18,000 in prize money, said Smith.

Up, up and away at HOF Festival Balloon Classicpic.twitter.com/D4ROK4z2sv

— Rich Desrosiers (@richdesrosiers)July 27, 2018

Event Director Maury Sullivan told one of the men working the event to raise the green flag once the crew turned on the burners to heat the air. That would signal all the other crews to begin inflating their balloons and Sullivan considered conditions safe enough for the launch.

Stew Gibboney, of Grove City, in the RE/MAX balloon would be the first to follow Kent State Stark's balloon.

"I'm happy it's not raining," he said before the launch. "Last year we didn't fly. We did the media flight and that was it. It's good (wind) direction. Lot of opportunities to land in the direction so should be a fun flight."

The green flag went up about 7:22 p.m.

And Troutman was up and away about a minute later as the crowd applauded.

Gibboney launched about five minutes later.

Within 20 minutes, the colorful balloons could be seen throughout much of the eastern sky.

It’s a perfect night to fly@ProFootballHOF#BalloonClassicpic.twitter.com/h9valethao

— Kent State Stark (@KentStateStark)July 28, 2018

About 7:40 p.m., a captain whose crew had nearly fully inflated his balloon with USA and the American flag on it, decided that conditions weren't right to launch. He instructed the crew to deflate.

"There's nothing wrong with that," Smith told the crowd. "You'd rather be on the ground wishing your were flying then up in the air wishing you were on the ground."

The last balloon to launch from the campus was Jason Myers' Dreamship about 7:53 p.m. sponsored by Rite Aid Foundation's KidCents, which was adorned by panels decorated with children's artwork.

Meanwhile, a couple of dozen balloons that had launched to the west of the campus sought to fly over the field area so the balloonists could attempt to drop a ring onto a pole for a $3,000 prize or drop a beanbag onto the field to earn points. But the wind kept nearly all of the balloons south of the campus and only one beanbag got dropped onto the field.

Spectator Fred Davis, 72, of Canton, said, "I've been here before and unfortunately bad weather kept them on the ground, so tonight was really good. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing a little bit the wrong way. Most of them went to the south and you couldn't see a whole lot. But the balloons that were up were really good. ... The pig (balloon) is always good."

Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at 330-580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com. Twitter: @rwangREP.