It was clear the Pro Football Hall of Fame Balloon Classic would be off to great start.

JACKSON TWP.  As the predawn darkness gave way to the sun, it was clear the Pro Football Hall of Fame Balloon Classic would be off to a great start Friday morning.

Fifty-one balloons are registered for this year's two-day event at Kent State University's Stark campus.

Local hot air balloon pilots are a small, close-knit group. One of the most popular is a woman who helped to organize the popular event: Beth Davidson of Canton, owner and pilot of the "Zig Zag."

Davidson, who served as event chair in 1989 and 1990, said she fell in love with ballooning when she was living in Colorado in the 1970s.

"A friend of mine and her husband had a balloon, and I've been hooked ever since," she said.

In 1977, Davidson became the first woman in Stark County to earn a pilot's license and among the first five or six to do so in the state.

Ballooning has taken her places.

"I flew in Leningrad in 1990 right after the Berlin Wall came down," she said. "It was a promotion to get a balloon factory in Russia, but I don't think they ever did."

On Friday morning, Davidson was assisted by a five-person crew, led by crew chief Ron-Kartler, Lisa Price-Kartler, Michelle Scalley, and Lisa Murphy and her son, Lucas.

In minutes, they had the entire apparatus assembled. As a slight haze blanketed the field, the balloon and basket lifted off. Zig Zag quickly became part of colorful assemblage of balloons, including the "Flying Elvis," sponsored by The Canton Repository, taking part in a flight with members of the local media.

"Northeast Ohio has a large ballooning community," said Davidson, a member of the Northeastern Ohio Balloon Pilots Association.

This year, the balloonists were given special permission to fly near the Akron Canton Regional Airport. En route, the Zig Zag passed over clusters of burgeoning developments, farmland and thick acres of trees. The rainy summer is evident in open spaces where fields are saturated by water.

Davidson, who's flown in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New York, Arizona and Michigan, said she would like to see more young people become involved in the sport. She's been flying for more than 40 years.

"We're sort of the first generation," she explained. "It's physically demanding. We're trying to get more young people to come out and crew, but they have so many interests today. Children are much busier today, with their own sports."

Looking down, Davidson spotted a white convertible. She waved.

"Hi, Bob!" she shouted to Bob Ackerman, a longtime friend who has crewed with her for 30 years.

After about an hour of flying, Davidson found a place to land: Gray Fox Drive NW in Green. After asking permission from the homeowner, Davidson expertly set the craft on the front lawn.

Zig Zag is met by the road crew following the flight on the ground, along Ackerman, and with teens Amber Murphy, A.J. Smith and Matthew Wood.

As quickly as they assembled the balloon, it was taken apart, neatly packed away and loaded onto Davidson's truck.

She ready for another flight, another adventure.

The balloons will return for flights Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday morning.

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or

On Twitter: @cgoshayREP

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