Thunderbird Rodeo volunteers make it happen

From left, Mark Barnes, Jon Jennings, Joe Weaver and Duffy Foutch direct Darrel Oien (not pictured) as he pushes a giant cement brick into place behind the timed events pen Wednesday. - Jesse Beals/staff photo
From left, Mark Barnes, Jon Jennings, Joe Weaver and Duffy Foutch direct Darrel Oien (not pictured) as he pushes a giant cement brick into place behind the timed events pen Wednesday.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photo

Joe Weaver isn’t a cowboy.

But for a weekend, the longtime Wrangler gets to be.

Weaver is one of dozens of volunteers who make the Thunderbird Pro Benefit Rodeo happen. The rodeo, a benefit for Corey’s Day on the Farm and the Northwest Burn Foundation charities, relies on an all-volunteer base for everything from raising funds to raising fences on the Thunderbird Arena floor.

“It’s cool,” Weaver said Wednesday during a work party to get the arena ready for today’s start. “All of us work all day then come up here and get this thing up. We’re here until 9 or 10 p.m. We’re up here on weekends. Nobody complains.

“It’s all our ways to be cowboys for the weekend.”

While some of the helping hands belong to cowboys and cowgirls, most of the volunteers are like Weaver; fans of the sport finding a way to lend a hand and get directly involved in the action.

“It’s amazing how many people are willing to spend this many hours to do this,” Thunderbird co-producer Don Frazier said.

Frazier estimates 25-30 volunteers come together for the event, the only one of its kind in the Northwest Professional Rodeo circuit.

“It’s the love of rodeo, number one,” said co-producer John Rosebeary, also the president of The Cowpokes Board of Directors. “That’s the neat thing about the Thunderbird rodeo. It’s a love of the sport and a love of these charities.”

Fellow co-producer and volunteer Dan Crook said what makes it even better is the support of the community for the event and the causes it supports.

“Of course the main reason any of us are here is Corey’s Day on the Farm and the Northwest Burn Foundation,” he said. “But to see a lot of people come out here and have a good time in that spirit, that’s the best part about it. That’s what makes it worth going through all this.”

The work begins early, with raising funds and gathering sponsors to make the event a go. This May, the first Corey’s Day Classic golf tournament took place, raising just under $3,000 for the charity.

“Everything starts to go,” Rosebeary said of the stresses that can be fund raising. “Everything starts up.”

In the week leading up to the rodeo, the work gets physical. The arena floor, used by the Kitsap Destruction Derby during the summer, must itself be groomed before the various fences, rails and gates can go up. After the event, all of that must be torn down only to be put back up weeks later for the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede.

But for today and tomorrow’s performances, any work-related headaches, whether clerical or physical, are put on hold.

“When you get out here, that just all goes away,” Rosebeary said. “Walking in, you just get chills. To know you’re a part of it just makes it that much better.”

Rosebeary’s daughter Shelby, herself a competitor in junior rodeo, said volunteering offered her a look at rodeo that competing doesn’t.

“I like it a lot,” she said. “When I do junior rodeo, I don’t get to go behind the scenes.”

With a roster of cowboys and cowgirls littered with Kitsap products throughout, Frazier said he enjoys seeing the former local junior rodeo competitors as they move up the pro ranks.

“What ties this all together for me is I love working with the kids,” said Frazier, who will announce the event with co-producer Colen Corey. “The kids coming up in the junior rodeo program are the ones competing here now.”

But those aren’t the only youngsters the volunteers enjoy seeing at Thunderbird.

“And then, to see a lot of kids at Corey’s Day on the Farm out here too and knowing the money is going to them, that’s a good thing,” Weaver said.

The rodeo technically began last night with a barrel race event. Tonight the action begins at 7 p.m. while tomorrow’s performance starts at 1 p.m. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $8 for military with ID. Kids ages 6-10 can get in for $5 and children 5 and younger get in free.

“It’s a different atmosphere than the other rodeo,” Crook said. “People love to support the cause. It’s unbelievable.”

The rodeo, in just its fourth year, won the NPRA Rodeo of the Year award last year, a surprise no one expected.

“It’s a good thing and it’s cool, but it’s not what we do it for,” Rosebeary said.

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