By Benjamin Bullard
The Cullman Times
The Cullman County sheriff’s office is saddling up for its second Jimmy Arrington Memorial Rodeo, an annual event that took on the late, beloved deputy’s name for the first time last year.
As in the past, this year’s rodeo will be a three-day event that gives local spectators the chance to see competitive cowboys — and cowgirls — in action when the stakes are high.
The sheriff’s office will host this year’s rodeo on Dec. 7-8 at the Cullman County Agricultural Center on U.S. Highway 31 North. The show starts on each night at 7:30 p.m. The arena is heated and the event will go on, rain or shine. Expect a crowd — last year’s Friday and Saturday attendance exceeded 1,000 each night.
According to sheriff’s office rodeo coordinator Mark Persall, the rodeo represents the final stop on the Lone Star Rodeo Company’s competitive circuit for the 2012 season. That means fans won’t just be seeing a watered-down demonstration — rather, they’ll be seeing some of the best professional riders go head to head to take home the company’s top prize.
“This is their last performance of the year. The riders develop points during the season, kind of like the NASCAR circuit, and this is their finals for the season,” explained Persall. “The talent of these riders is just unbelievable. It’s a very high-quality, high-action performance. The bull riding and the bronco riding is just unbelievable.”
While this is the second year Arrington’s name has been attached to the event, the rodeo itself goes back 15 years. Persall said community response has always been strong, but expects this year’s rodeo to rope in even more of a local crowd — both enthusiasts and curious onlookers.
“I think that bringing a family-oriented entertainment to the community is big — people come to the rodeo year after year, and a lot of people in Cullman really anticipate it,” he said. “We have really good support from a lot of people who have been loyal to it the whole time. There are a lot of horse enthusiasts in Cullman County, and a lot of cattle ranchers, and this is an entertainment they can identify with.”
Sheriff Mike Rainey said the highlight of the long rodeo weekend, for him, comes on the first day, when an expected 600 developmentally disabled students from areas schools and special-needs learning centers flock to the Cullman County Agricultural Center for a fun day of demonstrations and some hands-on rodeo experience of their own.
“When we have the special needs rodeo, that’s the biggest reward of the whole three days,” said Rainey. “On the day before the rodeo starts, we bus in children with special needs, and we set up all kinds of games for them out in the arena. They become the stars, and we take them on a hay ride. They’ll get to see some skills demonstrations, like calf roping, up close. And we have a guy who’s a rodeo clown come and do his routine. They love the rodeo clown.”
“A lot of these kids are at a disability level where they can’t typically go out and do special events much,” added Persall. “This is one of the main reasons we put this thing on. We raise the money to help fund that one part of the rodeo, for the kids, and we have some great corporate sponsors who give us tremendous support.”
Proceeds from the main event benefit the sheriff’s department through a special fund set aside to help flesh out material resources for the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. Rainey said last year’s rodeo raised approximately $17,000, which the sheriff’s office set aside to purchase equipment and training for school resource officers, as well as D.A.R.E. educational materials.
Honoring the memory of Arrington, a former deputy who helped start the annual rodeo, was just one more way to add meaning to an always-entertaining event,” noted Rainey.
“Jimmy was very involved, and instrumental, in getting it started. He was also my sergeant when I worked at the sheriff’s office,” he said. “I just felt he was owed some credit for the work he did. They had the first annual benefit rodeo back on December 4th and 5th of 1988 — I’ve got the original poster right here in my office.”
Advance tickets for each night of the all-indoor, heated rodeo are $10 for adults and $8 for children ages 6-18. Younger children are admitted free of charge. Door admission is $12 for adults and $10 for children ages 6-18. Admission on the day of the event remains free for children under 6.
Contact Persall at 256-735-2721, or at 256-338-6696 for more information.
Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.