Rodeo Club tackles bull riding, stereotypes

Phil Bollinger and Chris Forrest, both Parkland College students, teach a child from Generations of Hope how to ride a bull. Generations of Hope supports families adopting children from foster care. Photo courtesy of Cody Skees

Phil Bollinger and Chris Forrest, both Parkland College students, teach a child from Generations of Hope how to ride a bull. Generations of Hope supports families adopting children from foster care. Photo courtesy of Cody Skees

By April Dahlquist

With literally a ton of angry weight bucking beneath her, Christina Chapel tries to hang on to the small rope for eight seconds – and that’s no bull.

Well, actually it is. Chapel, senior in ACES, is a bull rider and, as a former member of Rodeo Club, she has participated in numerous rodeos.

Rodeo Club is a growing organization on campus that hopes to promote this lesser-known sport to anyone interested.

“We want to introduce the sport throughout the area to people who otherwise wouldn’t have the exposure,” Cody Skees, senior in ACES and president of Rodeo Club, said.

Athletes for a rodeo need to practice and train just like any other sport, Historian Sarah Albert, junior in ACES said, which is why Rodeo Club practices once a week at the Stock Pavilion, located at 1402 W. Pennsylvania Ave. in Urbana. The club uses a barrel at the Stock Pavilion to simulate a bull ride. Chapel believes not even a mechanical bull can give the same adrenaline rush that riding a real bull gives.

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    “When you sit down on the bull and put your hand in the rope and you just feel all the heat and muscle underneath you, it hits you that this is a huge animal that can do some damage,” Chapel said.

    The score for a bull rider comes half from the rider and half from the bull. If the bull does more turns or moves that makes it harder for the rider, the bull’s score goes up. If the rider responds well to these maneuvers by balancing, his or her score goes up.

    Bull riding is just one event at a rodeo. Others include barrel racing, bronc riding, tie-down roping and steer wrestling.

    “My favorite event to watch is the bull riding,” Albert said. “For the people who are brave enough to do it, it just blows me away that they can hang on to something so big and not be afraid.”

    Although the club is often mistaken for just a “bunch of cowboys,” Albert said, its members participate in a number of philanthropic events throughout the year.

    “People hear the word ‘rodeo’ and think we just sit around and drink,” Albert said. “We want to get rid of the concept that we are just a bunch of partiers and do nothing out in the community.”

    Another misconception of rodeos is of cruelty to animals, when in reality it is a pretty good life for them, Albert said.

    “We don’t harm the animal. We have the upmost respect for the animal,” club member and graduate student Karl Spencer said. “A lot of these animals have a better life than animals in a herd. They are treated almost like celebrities.”

    Chapel agrees, stating that people even buy action figures of famous bulls, such as Yellow Jacket or Mudslinger.

    One annual event Rodeo Club holds is a trip to Camp Healing Heart, sponsored by Carle Hospital. The club goes to visit children who have just recently lost a loved one, and teach them about rodeos.

    “It really helps with the coping process for the kids to get their mind off the loss,” Skees said. “We’re giving the kids role models to look at and a sport they can do in the future.”

    The club also wants to promote the continuation of the rodeo sport. The group plans to bring middle school and high school students to the University to teach them about rodeos.

    “We want to help them learn about it. We want to clear up any misconceptions and just give them the facts,” Albert said. “We want to get young kids interested and excited.”

    The ultimate goal of the Rodeo Club is to just keep the tradition of rodeo alive. Anyone interested is encouraged to check out the club’s practices.

    “If you can get on a bull, you can do anything,” Chapel said.