By Valerie Baldowski
Local rodeo fans have until Sunday to visit the 2009 Walt Walden Memorial Rodeo, presented by the Henry County Rodeo Association, and being held at the Jason T. Harper Event Center in McDonough.
On Friday, the crowds were thick, and the atmosphere was charged with excitement. Some rodeo participants strolled around the perimeter of the arena before the event began, inspecting the animals in the pens, in anticipation of the calf-roping competitions.
Others were warming up their mounts in the corral, or eyeing the horses wedged carefully in the narrow chutes, in preparation for the bronc-riding competitions.
Jill Cooper, a competitor from Franklin, Tenn., was carefully inspecting the calves prior to the roping events. Cooper returned this year to compete in the breakaway-roping and barrel-racing contests.
She said she did not perform as well as she had hoped in last year's Henry County rodeo, but anticipated climbing into the saddle this time, and putting up a strong performance. "Hopefully, I'll make it a better year this year," she said.
Cooper said she enjoys the variety the rodeo life affords her. "I love the competition, I love the family that the rodeo community is, and the chance to see a bunch of different faces," she said.
As a rodeo contestant, she travels extensively. "I go to three or four a weekend," she added.
Ralph Williams, of Skiatook, Okla., was waiting patiently, on his horse, just outside the arena, until the time of his scheduled entrance. He was at the rodeo with his wife, Sally, a barrel racer, and his brother, "Boop," who was his partner in the team-roping event. "Me and my wife are both riding the same horse, so that's a little unusual," he said.
He has been involved in the rodeo circuit most of his life, he said, beginning with junior rodeos as a 6-year-old. "I've been in it about 30 years," he said.
According to rodeo officials, on Saturday and Sunday, gates open at 6 p.m., and the events begin at 7:30 p.m. There is also a Sunday matinee, when the gates open at noon and the rodeo begins at 2 p.m. A portion of the proceeds will benefit A Friend's House.
The annual rodeo began in 2000, said Bill Jones, Henry County Rodeo Association president, and was first held at Williamsburg Plantation.
"We tried to do a community-oriented event, where families are the main objective, where kids can enjoy themselves," Jones said. "There's lots of things for them to do, other than just watch the rodeo."
One of those activities is something called the Kids' Calf Scramble, said Butch Oliver, a board member of the Henry County Rodeo Association.
During the midway point in the rodeo events, said Oliver, between 100 and 200 children climb into the arena to chase a calf with a ribbon tied around its tail. The child who catches the calf, he said, receives $100.
This marks the second year the rodeo has been held at the Jason T. Harper Event Center, said Jones. "Over a three-day period, we will probably reach around 3,500 to 4,000 people," he said.
Each year, the event grows a little bigger, said Oliver. "One of the biggest things, other than being able to help people who need help [as a fund-raising event], is watching the kids," Oliver said. "It's unbelievable, the kids have a blast here."
At least two-thirds of the attendees are children, he added.