Rodeo club teaches and thrills

By Bella Jackson

Champaign-Urbana transformed into the Wild West on Saturday night. The smell of leather, pulled pork and hot dogs wafted in the air as the UIUC Rodeo Club hosted this year’s Orange and Blue Rodeo Roundup at the Champaign County Fairgrounds.

The night started off strong with bareback and center saddle bronc riding, where cowboys attempted to ride a bronco for eight seconds as it bucked violently.

Throughout the night Mark Northall, the announcer, described the competition rules for each event to nearly 1,000 attendees, making the scoring process and goals of the cowboys clear to those who weren’t from the West or familiar with rodeos.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s getting wild, it’s getting Western here in Urbana on a Saturday night,” Northall said as the crowd cheered.

Gretchen Ragle, senior in ACES, has been involved with Rodeo Club since she first transferred to the University three years ago. She said that the club has been around since at least the 1970s, and its main goal is to educate people about what rodeos really are.

“Even though we are located in central Illinois, we have a diverse campus,” Ragle said. “Not many people know about rodeos. They think it’s inhumane or crazy, so we try to squelch those rumors,”

The crowd at Saturday’s rodeo consisted of both newcomers and veterans, and they cheerered throughout the entire display.

The RSO started planning for the event last semester. At that time, Ragle said the group determined the bigger details of the event and set a budget. They dedicated the spring semester to working out the finer details, such as scheduling and securing sponsorships.

Claire Timlin, junior in ACES, joined the club this year. She said each club member is required to get sponsorships from local businesses. This is a time-consuming task, but Ragle said that many of the businesses are very willing to help out because they get publicity from the event and want to support the community.

One of these local businesses, Gibson City Meats & Deli, sold food at the event as well as sponsored the competition.

Timlin said when she meets people who have never been to a rodeo, she explains to them that it’s just a competition for cowboys and cowgirls with multiple events.

On Saturday, Big Hat Rodeo Company provided the professional cowboys, cowgirls and animals that competed in seven different events, which included bronc riding, roping events and bull riding.

As the rodeo professionals moved to the next event, a trick rider performed; she stood on two horses as she weaved through flaming torches, walked backwards and even completed a jump.

Northall called these tricks Roman-style, which a style similar to how generals used to stand on two horses when commanding their troops.

The next event consisted of steer wrestling, where a cowboy jumped from a moving horse to wrestle a steer to the ground.

During the event, Northall explained how modern rodeos honor the skills that were daily tasks for cowboys in the American Wild West.

After a cowboy who wasn’t as quick as his opponents finally finished wrestling his steer, Northall said, “He never quit trying. And that’s the heart of the American cowboy.”

Although the crowd’s energy started to fade near intermission, it picked back up as the cowgirls entered the arena for the barrel riding competition.

This event was followed by two cowgirl trick riders, who donned dazzling sparkly costumes while dangling off their horses upside down or standing straight up with an American flag flying behind them.

At the end of the event, the most popular competition entered the gates: the bull riding. This thrilling event requires cowboys to hold on to powerful, fast bulls as they toss and rear around the arena. Like in the bronc riding, cowboys must stay on for eight seconds to qualify for the event.

Even when a cowboy or cowgirl did not qualify or place in a certain event, Northall made sure to rally the applause of the crowd.

“It’s not going to work for your cowboy today, but make a little noise, let him know you appreciate him,” Northall said after a rider failed to stay on the bull for eight seconds.

Even though the Big Hat Rodeo Co. professionals were competing, the Rodeo Club members were the people making sure the event ran smoothly. They sold tickets, handed out programs, worked the merchandise booth and directed traffic.

“A big event like this is do or die,” Ragle said, “We really put our heart and soul into it. When I’m not in class or doing homework, I’m working on this. This is our baby.”

Ragle said the skills that she has learned through Rodeo Club will definitely benefit her in the future.

“We have to talk to adults in the community and local businesses,” she said, “You learn about advertising, budgeting and people skills.”

The rodeo was a charity event for the Wounded Warriors Project, a non-profit organization that provides services and programs for veterans. Ragle said the club has worked with the charity in the past, and she loves how the money goes to help American soldiers who have been on the front lines.

“There are a lot of connections between rodeo cowboys and soldiers, but the soldiers are the real heroes,” Ragle said.

The amount raised for the charity is still being calculated, but Ragle said the club is ecstatic over how the rodeo turned out.

“Looking into the grandstands, seeing all the excited kids faces and the families cheer, made all our hard work worth it.”

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