The Cullman County Sheriff’s Office’s signature annual community event returns this week, with the 19th annual Jimmy Arrington Memorial Rodeo set to kick off Friday evening at the Cullman County Agricultural Center.
Gates for the rodeo, which doubles as a stop on the competitive Professional Cowboy Association (PCA) circuit, will open at 5:30 p.m. Friday, and again on Saturday, with rodeo events kicking off at 7:30 p.m. each night.
Admission to the fundraising event is $10 for adults and $8 for students. Tickets are available at the door, or in advance at Traditions Bank, Jack’s Western Wear and the sheriff’s office on Beech Avenue.
Special events scheduled for this year’s rodeo include the ladies’ envelope scramble, little cowpoke gold rush and the veterans’ night out.
During the week, the sheriff’s office also will host field trip activities at the venue for special needs children from all of Cullman County’s public and private schools, as well as the Margaret Jean Jones Center.
“For us, the special needs rodeo is really the highlight of the entire week, because it’s just such a heartwarming experience,” said sheriff Matt Gentry. “You get to see a lot of smiles on the faces of a lot of special needs kids.
“We’ll have 1,600 kids and volunteers there for our special needs rodeo on Thursday, and it’s just a day full of great activities. We’ll do a mini rodeo; then after that we’ll put on a hay ride, and there’ll be stick horse races, and roping. Chik-fil-A is our major special needs sponsor, and they’ll feed all the kids there that day.”
Gentry said the rodeo has grown in popularity with each installment — in part, he believes, because it brings law enforcement and the larger community together in a fun environment that everyone can equally enjoy.
“This is really one of our biggest events, in terms of turnout,” he said. “You’ve got 3,000-plus citizens together with our deputies and all the employees of the sheriff’s office, and it’s just good clean fun. But it’s also a way for the deputies and the citizens to be together at a great community event. We want to be known as somebody our citizens can trust; somebody whom they can have a strong relationship with.
“One of the big things I believe is that the office of sheriff doesn’t belong to me or to the deputies; it belongs to the community. If we’re strong together, then it’s a win for law enforcement. The more we’re engaged with the community, the more we can learn about where the problems are; the more we can help all of our citizens.”
The sheriff’s office donates a portion of proceeds from each year’s rodeo to special needs programs at local schools, and uses part of the funds it raises to supply school resource deputies countywide.
“We donate $500 to every school in Cullman County that houses special needs children,” Gentry explained. “In the past two years, we’ve donated $31,000 to our schools, including both city and county.
“We also were able to purchase laptops and equipment for the school resource deputies one year. Last year, we purchased the vest carriers that you may have seen the deputies wear. The rodeo also funds all of our community programs, whether it’s the Citizens’ Academy, our firearms safety classes, church safety classes, or the sheriff’s office’s youth leadership program. Any community event that we are able to do, it’s because of the fundraising we do with the rodeo.”
Benjamin Bullard can be reached by phone at 256-734-2131 ext. 145.