CLEVELAND — Rodeo is more than just a sporting event. It’s a community.
Competitors and spectators alike said so, without prompting, one after another as the Cleveland Rodeo got ready to start Friday night.
The third annual event has drawn as many as 1,500 people to the arena off Redmon Road, organizers have said.
Storms rolled into the area Friday about half an hour after the rodeo began, sending some spectators fleeing to their cars. But organizers said they were able to finish the event.
Rodeo action continues tonight, with only a 20 percent chance of storms after 3 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
Gates open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m.
The competitors and entertainers who put on the event come from all over the state and the region.
Sharon Livengood, co-founder and organizer, said she’s long been a competitor herself and was glad to offer fellow rodeo professionals an event in her hometown.
“Good rodeos are hard to come by,” Livengood said, “especially close to home.”
As the bronc riders made their way out of the gates on bucking horses, rodeo clown Jake Willcox stood by for comic relief.
“I guess I started clowning about six years ago,” Willcox said. Based out of Athens, Ga., he travels to several rodeos a week during peak season.
“I’m here to keep the crowd laughing,” he said.
During the bull riding events, he gets into a barrel to help keep riders safe.
The rest of the time, Willcox said, “the most dangerous thing I do is tell Obama jokes.”
“Rodeo is kind of a family,” Willcox said, “a small community. People who know people who know people.”
Both Willcox and Jeff Wolf, announcer and deejay — the most visible entertainers who weren’t actually competing —have a history in rodeo.
Willcox had a stint in calf-roping, but said he wasn’t good enough to be a pro.
Wolf said he started when he was 13. “I fought bulls the better part of 12 years,” he said.
When that ended, “I decided I still wanted to be involved with it.”
Many agree that the life of a rodeo professional is tough.
Members of the Livengood family compete in rodeos “almost every weekend,” she said.
Her daughter, Bailey, competes in breakaway roping. So does Bailey’s cousin, Carson Denning.
Both girls are 15, and said they enjoy the thrill of competition.
“It’s a challenge,” Bailey Livengood said.
Denning said breakaway roping is intense, and that the best part is “the bond between the people and their horses.”
“It’s a rush!” Denning said.
Justin Pendry, a bull rider from Savannah, Ga., started out at the age of six, riding sheep in rodeos.
“It’s addictive,” Pendry said. “Just like anything else, when you win that first check, you keep coming back.”
Smaller events can net winners hundreds of dollars. Big rodeos might have a purse 100 times bigger.
But the love of rodeo keeps many coming back, even though they never get rich.
For the fans in the stands, rodeo means friends and fun.
Sarah Loudermilk and sister Kate Teague, of Taylorsville, came to watch their friend, Jessie Parson, compete.
They said it was worth the drive to take pictures and watch the excitement of the rodeo events unfold.
Not satisfied with the bleacher seats, Marshall and Dana Lindsay of Rockwell set up their lawn chairs right beside the fence at the far end of the ring.
They had a ground-floor view of the action … and a faceful of dust as the horses rode by.
“It’s all about the action,” they said — never mind the dust.
For the hundreds of fans who came out despite clouds and distant thunder, the love of rodeo keeps them coming back.
The Cleveland Rodeo is held at 875 Redmon Road. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for kids ages 6 to 13. Children under 6 get in free.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.