By Johnny Jackson
Three-year-olds, Dane and Caleb, tossed about in the dirt as they walked around Heritage Park, both excited to see those rodeo bulls.
"I want to see the cowboys lasso the cows," shouted Caleb.
"I want to see the cows," answered Dane, referring to the penned bulls.
The Eighth Annual Walt Walden Memorial Pro Rodeo was the first rodeo for the two cousins, said their grandmother, Kit Welch, of McDonough. "I've always liked horses," Welch said. "So, I thought it would be something fun to do that they've never done before. They want to be cowboys when they grow up."
Caleb said, however, that he would prefer having a cowboy custom now.
The annual rodeo, sanctioned by the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA), is named after the deceased Stockbridge native, Walt Walden (1956-2004), who became the first Georgian to win the 1988 World Title in rodeo.
Event organizers expect some 6,000 to attend the rodeo this weekend, at 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.
"They're in for a thrill of a lifetime," said Curtis Rice, IPRA spokesman. "Rodeo is the only sport in America, made in America, for America, by Americans."
Rice, 74, has participated in rodeos since he was about six years old. He said the sport is unique in that competitors treat each other like family, rather than rivals.
"In this sport, it's the cowboy against the bull and not the cowboys against the cowboys, really," said Matthew Graef, a bull fighter with the rodeo. "We're family oriented. We help each other."
This weekend's festivities include these major events: bareback- and saddle-bronco riding; bull riding; steer wrestling; cowgirls' barrel racing; calf roping; cowgirls' breakaway roping, and team roping. There is also a "Kids Calf Scramble" during intermission, when children are invited into the arena to run with small calves. Several locals are among the roughly 200 contestants who participate.
Kaylin Daniel, of Locust Grove, will race her 6-year-old paint horse, named Tuff, for the first time, today, in the rodeo's cowgirls barrel racing. A member of the National Barrel Horse Association, she said she wants to be able to compete with Tuff on a regular basis in rodeos.
"They're just fun," Daniel said. "It's an adrenaline rush."
Linda Jones invited her eight-year-old son, Terrie, rodeo's future bull rider, to the rodeo for the same reasons. "He's never been to a rodeo," Jones said. "I think it's pretty nice."
The rodeo began as a local charity event, and continues to raise money for various causes throughout Henry County. Last year, the event raised more than $10,000, which was donated to local non-profit organizations.
Organizers hope to raise as much this year to benefit education scholarships as well as area charities like "A Friend's House" children's shelter.
The main sponsor for this year's event is Willett Honda South in Morrow, but several organizations are supporting the event with food, souvenirs, and activity venders.
The two-and-a-half-hour event, in a no-alcohol venue, will open at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Tickets will cost $15 at the gate, with free admission for children, ages 5 and under. Gates open at 6 p.m.
Henry County Police plan to close Lake Dow Road at its intersection with Ga. Hwy. 81, between 5 p.m., and 11 p.m., today and Saturday, for the event. Those headed to the event from the south side of Lake Dow Road, should use Rosser Road, near Hwy. 81. There will be signs and officers directing traffic at key locations.
On the net:
Henry County Rodeo Association: www.hcrodeo.com