For the 6th straight year, the Central PA Rodeo will bring professional cowboys and cowgirls to our region, many of them at the pinnacle of their athletic careers.
These are not the stars who get top billing on Sportscenter; these are athletes that inspire country music songs.
Whether it's Willie Nelson crooning, "Mama's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys," or Tim McGraw singing about the "Cowboy in Me," there's something captivating about the hard-living life of these tough-guy throwbacks to the Wild West.
Coming to the Huntingdon County Fairgrounds June 18-20, the athletes who will compete in the seven traditional rodeo events hail from as far away as Canada and Texas. They travel the country to events like this, sanctioned by the International and American Professional Rodeo Associations, battling for prize money and points in their sport's standings.
"This is not rinky-dink rodeo," said committee president, Jen McKernan. "We bring in top competitors; last year we had some of the cowboys and cowgirls that went on to place in the top ten at nationals."
McKernan expects the attendance over the three days to climb toward 7,500 spectators, particularly with the addition of a barbecue cook off and pre-rodeo Ricky Lee concerts. The event benefits St. Matthew School in Tyrone, and goes far beyond the traditional bingo fundraiser. The late Dennis Boscaino, a Team Roper, was instrumental in helping to organize the first Central PA Rodeo in 2005; it has grown in popularity and prestige ever since.
Rodeo is a sport that tests the competitors' toughness, strength and speed against the power and will of animals like 2,000-pound bulls and wild horses. It is not a sport for the faint of heart.
"I think there's a mental toughness to prepare yourself to stay on that bull for 8 seconds or ride that horse the way you have to," said McKernan. "There's discipline you have to have in riding a certain way, along with the physical part: the strength to hold on, especially when you're battling those huge bulls."
There are two categories of rodeo events: Rough Stock (like the dramatic bull and bronc riding, where the athletes try to stay on a bucking animal that wants them off) and Timed Events (like barrel racing and steer wrestling, which require precision riding skills in a race against the clock).
Like most sports, these athletes learn their craft from parents and grandparents; it's in their blood.
Some of today's competitors wear face masks instead of cowboy hats, but the rodeo has a way of taking us back in time with an American folk hero. The image of the rugged trail rider in his boots, spurs and belt buckle never goes out of style, and will be celebrated once again with the Central PA Rodeo. As you make your way to Huntingdon for the event, in the words of Roy Rogers, "Happy Trails."
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.