More than thirty years ago, a novel fundraising idea was born in Limestone County which was inspired by two things: Sheriff Mike Blakely’s lifelong love for everything that goes on in a rodeo, and the need to find a way to raise funds for new equipment. Sheriff Mike found himself in a challenging spot. He took office in the middle of a term, and the budget for everything was already set in stone. The County Commissioners wanted to help out by granting funds to take care of immediate needs, but no money could be released until the beginning of the next fiscal year. The patrol car out of the entire fleet that was in the best shape had over 260,000 miles on it, and, undaunted, Sheriff Mike set out to find a solution.
Perhaps providentially, soon after the Commissioners had to deliver their bad financial news, Sheriff Mike was contacted by Lone Star Rodeo Company, and they, too, had a need. Their representative, Preston Fowlkes, was looking for someone who would be interested in helping to sponsor a local rodeo. The joint venture has gone on to make history, and to create a lot of fun for the folks of our county and beyond in the process.
That was a third of a century ago, and here is some of what has been accomplished. 34 patrol cars have been purchased, loaded with the latest “bad-guy-catching” technology. Much of the cost of the helicopter has been covered. Having unintentionally found myself in a situation where the chopper was deployed, and the bad guy was then quickly found, I am personally glad we have it. I am even happier that the rodeo has helped to pay for it, and not the taxpayers. There is now money for special training, special equipment, and upgrading the skills of the response team.
In regard to the arena itself, the rodeo has made it possible to purchase the land, build the facility, and all of it is used 12 months of the year for all manner of civic events. Teresa Todd, of Athens Limestone County Tourism Association, explains the economic impact of the Rodeo on our region in her article found on page 10 Our hotels fill up, our restaurants are busy, and so many of the other special attractions in the area are visited. A previous article published in Athens Now described in detail the various aspects of the Special Needs Rodeo, the Slack Rodeo, the Queen’s Contest, the street dance, the parade, and more.
In terms of putting us “on the map,” the Limestone County Sheriff’s Rodeo has garnered several tourism-related awards. It was voted “Rodeo of the Year” during the Lone Star National Finals Rodeo held in Huntsville at the Von Braun Civic Center. Once again, it has been chosen as one of the top 20 events in the Southeast. While this is not an award, our rodeo happens to be the largest outdoor event east of the Mississippi.
The Sheriff’s Rodeo has given out sizeable cash prizes to riders who have faced down literal tons of equine and bovine rage, and then lived to tell the tale. As the event has grown, competitors from the top echelon of the rodeo world have competed here. This year’s purse is worth $50,000.
So, why is the question, “Are You Ready For The Rodeo?” even being asked in the first place? Because in order for you to get the most out of the rodeo, more is involved than buying tickets, getting the kids in the car, and showing up on time. I would like to suggest that here is an example of the truth that it is more blessed to give than it is to receive, and extend the invitation to get involved. The fact is, our rodeo does more than buy crucial-yet-inanimate objects such as patrol cars; our rodeo changes lives. The everyday people who have gotten involved with the Special Needs community as it interfaces with the rodeo fully understand that they end up more blessed by being a blessing to these kids. Just ask Paul Cain.
The people who work the Queen’s Contest know this is about way more than poise or perfectly styled hair, or even excellent horsemanship. Just ask Debbie Blakely. This is about bringing forth the beauty that is within as well as without, and preparing to live life well in service to others, long after outward beauty has lost its power.
The Limestone County Sheriff’s Rodeo is about originally coming together to solve a problem, and ending up building a community. That’s why you need to get ready, and once again, you are in for a treat at “The Greatest Show On Dirt!”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner