By Johnny Jackson
Organizers are expecting large crowds for the Eighth Annual Walt Walden Memorial Pro Rodeo, also known as the Henry County Rodeo.
Some 6,000 are expected to attend rodeo events Sept. 11-13, at a new venue - the Jason T. Harper Event Center at Heritage Park in McDonough. About 4,000 attended last year's rodeo hosted by the Henry County Rodeo Association.
The annual rodeo - named after the deceased Stockbridge native, Walt Walden (1956-2004), who became the first Georgian to win the 1988 World Title in rodeo - began as a local charity event, and continues to raise money for various causes throughout Henry County.
"He was very humble," said Traci Walden, Walt Walden's former wife, a veteran cowgirl who also competes in the rodeo as a barrel racer. "But I'm sure he would be very honored. He has won in all of the rodeo associations. The sport of rodeo has really lost a legend, but he will always be remembered."
Last year, the association raised about $10,000, which was donated to local and non-profit organizations in Henry. This year's event will benefit several more charities, including A Friend's House children's shelter. It will also help fund three Walt Walden Memorial scholarships, each worth $500.
The rodeo also benefits high school clubs, according to Sam Davis, Henry County Rodeo Association spokesman. For instance, he said members of the Ola High School wrestling team will participate in this year's rodeo by helping with parking services. In return, the team will receive a donation for its wrestling program.
The rodeo's main sponsor this year is Willett Honda South in Morrow, but several organizations are supporting the event with food, souvenir, and activities venders.
The rodeo, sanctioned by the International Professional Rodeo Association, is an eight-event rodeo that includes: bareback- and saddle-bronco riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, cowgirls' barrel racing, calf roping, cowgirls' breakaway, roping, and team roping. The rodeo typically includes several locals among the roughly 200 contestants who participate.
"We should have 25-35 bull riders," Davis said. "Barrel racing and bull riding are the two favorites at the rodeo [for audiences]. It's a good variance of everybody. It's a family oriented event."
The rodeo is a non-alcoholic event that will also include a "Kids Calf Scramble" during intermission, when children are invited into the arena to run with several small calves.
"I think it's very professional. It's one of the most professional shows that I've seen," said John Martin, who takes photographs for the Henry County Rodeo.
Rodeo gates open at 6 p.m., each night, with a start time of 7:30 p.m. The event lasts about two-and-a-half hours each night. Family Night at the rodeo will be Sept. 11, when tickets will be $10. Advanced tickets will cost $12 for adults and $10 for students for the Sept. 12-13 dates. On those days, tickets will cost $15 at the gate, but children 5 and under will be admitted free.
For advance ticket information and group and senior discount rates, visit the Henry County Rodeo web site, or call Sam Davis at (678) 432-4399.
On the net:
Henry County Rodeo Association: www.hcrodeo.com