Hi everyone! Thanks for dropping by. I’m so glad you’d like to know a little bit of background information about our event. The Big T Memorial Cookoff is a labor of love that was started by a group of life-long friends to remember one we lost too soon, and to support those we love. My name is Shannon Margraves, and I’m very proud to be the daughter of Terry “Big T” Lair, and I would like to share a little bit of our cook-off history with y’all.
Our very first cookoff was held in the fall of 2010. The event was originally dubbed the Big T Memorial Chili Cookoff and Music Festival, and, as the name suggests, it started as a chili cookoff featuring live music. Most people didn’t know back then that our event was actually a benefit. The Big T Memorial Cookoff started out to support an autism organization that my husband and I formed with the help of a few other very special people, but our story has never really been told.
In the Beginning
Big T’s Buddies Autism Support Network is an organization a few others and I started in the summer of 2010 out of desperation. I felt so alone with my son JB’s diagnosis, and I didn’t know anyone around our area that was going through the same thing as we were. Here’s a little background on how we got started and how we got named:
My father, Terry Lair, known to most of the world as “Big T”, passed away suddenly in January of 2010. Daddy was a HUGE part of JB’s life–Grandaddy was his absolute favorite person ever. They played all the time, and it seemed like Daddy was the only person who could truly relate to JB. When we went to Nana and Grandaddy’s house, if Grandaddy was still at work or gone on a hunting trip, JB would sit in his chair like he was waiting on him. It was awesome to see, and so cute. When we lost Daddy suddenly, not long after his 50th birthday, it was like we lost a little part of JB too. He’s yet to relate to anyone like he did to Daddy. Butch is a very close second, but I still don’t see the complete magic that was there with Daddy.
When we went to Momma’s house, he would sit in Daddy’s chair, look out the window, and then look around at us like, “hey y’all, what gives? Where is he?”. Every time, it broke my heart. He didn’t understand where his grandaddy was. We struggled to explain it. Autism makes life hard, y’all. Even now when we go to Momma’s, even though it’s a different house, he still goes right to that chair (yes, she’s kept it all these years). It always makes me smile now, 11 years later, to see JB sitting in that chair.
Before Daddy died, he and I, my husband Butch, and a few friends had been talking about doing some kind of benefit to raise money for kids with autism in our rural area. When JB was first diagnosed a couple months shy of 2 years old (very early for an official diagnosis), we felt so completely alone. I didn’t know anyone going through what our little family was going through. I felt trapped. I wished that I could find someone to reach out to, and, at the very least, someone to talk to who’d been in the dark, isolating hole that I felt like I was in at that time. In our little area of rural Texas, we are at least an hour from any city. Dallas is an hour and a half to the North, Houston about 3 hours to the South, and the smaller cities of Waco and Tyler a little over an hour to the West and East, respectively. We are definitely in a rural area. There are no “help organizations” close enough to really make a difference here. There were no support groups close to us, and no resources that we knew of. There definitely were not many people around us who even understood what autism was in 2007.
Daddy was a huge BBQ cook. My brother Wade and I went to all kinds of cookoffs with Daddy while growing up and into our adult years. (The pic to the left shows many of us who were part of the cooking teams over the years.) He cooked for a lot of people around our local area, and would cook for any kind of local benefit, especially if it was for kids. Naturally, when we started kicking around the idea of raising money, he wanted to cook. The big question then was, “who gets the money?”. Our thoughts were that someone needed to start some kind of local group so that people weren’t quite so alone in this situation. Autism is very lonely, and also very expensive.
And the talks continued…
Fast forward a few months: Daddy was gone, and this same group of friends and Butch and I were talking about a way of doing something in Big T’s memory. The obvious choice for us was starting a cookoff. But… what would we do with the money that comes in from this cookoff? We put the two together, and…ding ding ding!! Our friends basically said, “hey Shannon, you start a group, we’ll start the cook-off, and the cook-off can benefit the group”. Win-win for everyone!! Then, boom: Big T’s Buddies was born. It took some other awesome people to meet up in a Fairfield Elementary School classroom, and we got the ball rolling. The idea behind the name “Big T’s Buddies” was because Daddy always called JB his buddy, and we like the sound of that. We then took a vote on it against a few other names, and it won out.
And so, the life of Big T’s Buddies’ Autism Support Network began.
And so does the life of the Big T Memorial Chili Cookoff and Music Festival. This logo is from our 4th year, and it was the final year of the chili cookoff. Our event was originally put on by the Centex Oilman’s Association, and later handed over to the Tri-County Oilman’s Association. After the first few years of working with these great organizations, our original group of friends decided it was better for the life of our cookoff if we started our own organization because we wanted to take the pressure of this large event off of these other organizations.
Golden Circle Special Needs Association
These days, the Big T Memorial Cookoff is organized by the Golden Circle Special Needs Association. Our organization is focused on providing funds to aid special needs children in our little, five-county area of rural Texas. Children from Freestone, Navarro, Anderson, Limestone, and Leon counties benefit from our efforts. We have given much-needed donations to the special education life skills programs at local schools, as well as to local special needs camps, and we hope to establish a scholarship fund in the near future.
When GCSNA took over the reins of the cookoff, we changed from a chili cookoff to a barbecue cookoff. We also made the decision to partner with the Lonestar Barbecue Society to sanction our event. Lonestar is a good fit for us as a sanctioning body because they sanction cookoffs specifically for non-profit causes. You can learn more about Lonestar Barbecue Society here.
In 2020, like so many other events, we received the sad news that we would have to cancel the 10th Anniversary of the Big T Memorial Cook-Off. We were absolutely devastated. We were disappointed to not be able to see our cook-off family, and heartbroken that we wouldn’t be able to raise money in 2020 with our biggest fundraiser of the year. Out of our heartbreak, though, the Big T Memorial Golf Scramble was born. Our first-ever golf scramble was such a success that we decided to add it to our list of annual events. Look for the Big T Memorial Golf Scramble every March at the Tri County Golf Club at the Vineyards, located in Freestone County, Texas.
Our Big 2021 Comeback
In 2021, the Golden Circle Special Needs Association was honored to receive the special designation from the State of Texas for the Big T Memorial Cook-Off to become a Lonestar Barbecue Society State Championship Cookoff. We have worked very hard over the years to turn this cookoff into an event that every competition cooker wants to enter. Our first priority has always been to take special care of our cook teams, and Lonestar Barbecue Society took notice of our efforts. They suggested we apply for the designation by contacting our state senator, and we did. We were rewarded with a very nice proclamation issued by the Texas State Senate and it was proclaimed on March 22, 2021 that the Big T Memorial Cookoff is now a State Championship BBQ Cookoff.
If you’re wondering what the actual significance of becoming a state championship cookoff means, here’s a little information:
When a cook team enters a state championship cookoff with Lonestar Barbecue Society (among other organizations), they are cooking for the right to go to the prestigious Jack Daniels Invitational Cookoff in Tennessee. There are only 3 ways to qualify for this cook-off: (1) win a state championship cookoff with more than 25 teams entered (or a competition with more that 50 cookers) and then be entered into a lottery drawing with other winners for an invite, (2) win 7 times at state championship cookoffs with more than 25 teams entered (or a competition with more than 50 cookers) and earn an automatic entry, or (3) win at one of the ‘premiere cookoffs’, which are Memphis in May, American Royal Open, or Houston World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Cookoff. There are several State Championship cookoffs in Texas each year, and having the State Championship designation gives those cookoffs an extra incentive for teams to enter. The teams that enter championship cookoffs are entering for more than just Lonestar points; they enter for the chance to win a ticket to Tennessee.
Continuing the Tradition
Please keep checking back for more updates on the progress of the Golden Circle Special Needs Association and the Big T Memorial Cook-Off. We hope to do some pretty big things in the near future. This is one labor of love that we are very proud of, and we know Big T is smiling down on us for our efforts. Come on out and join us at our next event!
2021 Golden Circle Special Needs Association Board Members
Leldon Childs, President
Jeff Kirgan, Vice President
Shannon Margraves, Secretary/Treasurer