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Thunderbird Rodeo rolling back into town
To borrow the lyrics of Garth Brooks: “The thunder rolls and the lightning strikes.”
With the county in the midst of a historic dry spell, the Thunderbird Pro Rodeo is rolling down Highway 3 toward the Kitsap County Fairgrounds where it’s set to strike, lighting up rodeo season.
The all-volunteer rodeo, which was named 2007 Rodeo of the Year by the Northwest Professional Rodeo Association (NPRA), will mark its fifth anniversary when it kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday, June 26 at the Fairgrounds, continuing at 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Rodeo organizers are eager to unveil one new addition and also bring back the music, livestock and faces that make Thunderbird a community event.
“This year, I think we’re going to outdo what we did in the past,” said volunteer Dan Crook. “We want half the county to come out and watch some great rodeo.”
Crook said he is just one of many volunteers who have worked since September to make this year’s Thunderbird — the only benefit rodeo in the NPRA — a striking success. Funds raised from the rodeo go to Corey’s Day on the Farm and the Northwest Burn Foundation.
Corey’s Day on the Farm offers special needs children a chance to experience farm life, or the “Western way,” with two days of horseback riding, barrel racing, hay rides and more. The annual event occurs on the Monday and Tuesday following Mother’s Day.
The Northwest Burn Foundation, meanwhile, has provided resources and support to burn victims since 1982.
“The community is really behind what we’re raising money for,” Crook said, adding the downtrodden economy has resulted in Thunderbird losing a few key sponsors. “But the community has stepped up in a big way and it’s going to be better than ever.”
Crook said compared to years past, the rodeo has received fewer high-amount donations but more small-amount donations, leveling the field. He thanked Clearwater Casino for becoming the rodeo’s presenting sponsor, meaning it provided funds to help get the rodeo off the ground.
“That just made it so we had a good jump-start,” Crook said.
The barrel racing event is back after its debut last year and will highlight Friday’s action when the doors open at 3 p.m. The local Michael Anthony Pratt Band will perform following the races along with Harmony Madden, who has been a Thunderbird Cowgirl since 2006.
The traditional bull riding, break away roping, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping and tie down roping events highlight the competition Saturday and Sunday.
National Finals Stock bulls High Roller, who holds a 90 percent buck-off rate, and El Loco, as well as six National Finals Stock horses, headline the livestock, which will be provided by Kelly Bowcutt’s Gold Buckle Rodeo Company
“This isn’t backyard livestock,” Crook said. “The cowboys are going to be able to try out some of the best livestock around.”
Country singer/songwriter Jonathan Harris will perform following Saturday’s action, returning after his Thunderbird debut in 2008. Thunderbird Pro Rodeo Queen Serenity Johnson, 17, and Little Miss Thunderbird Sadie White, 7, also will make appearances. There will be a demonstrative performance by the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Posse. The beer garden opens at 5 p.m. Saturday.
And the newest Thunderbird event?
Mutton busting — described by one rodeo fan at www.elise.com as “bull riding for little kids — on sheep.” No Kitsap rodeo has ever featured mutton busting, an event that gives children who are 50 pounds and heavier a chance to saddle up — with a helmet, of course — on a sheep, the goal being to ride around the arena for six seconds without falling off. Ten kids will get a chance Saturday and 10 more Sunday.
“We knew that if we could get the sheep in here, then the kids would sign up,” Crook said.
He said the mutton busting event exemplifies what Thunderbird is all about: bringing families together for a few nights of rodeo fun. In addition, family members of those currently deployed in the service will be admitted free of charge Sunday.
“We want to give back to those who give so much for us,” Crook said.
Volunteers will begin setting up the arena Wednesday evening.
“We’ve got a team this year that is absolutely selfless. It’s been a real group effort,” Crook said. “That alone is going to make this a wonderful event.”
To learn more about Thunderbird or to register a child for mutton busting, visit www.thunderbirdrodeo.com/index.html.