Deputy Sheriff Paul Cain looked at me, and with near disbelief in his voice, said, “We have now been doing this for a third of a century, 33 years.” The “this,” of course, is the upcoming 33rd Annual Sheriff’s Rodeo, but for the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on three aspects of the event: the power of community support, the special needs rodeo, and the Queen’s pageant.
For the last three years, the entire Rodeo has been named one of the top 20 annual tourism events in the Southeast, and has long been the largest outdoor rodeo east of the Mississippi River. It sports a winnings purse of $50,000. The Deputy Sheriff wanted to emphasize that while the entire Sheriff’s Department works hard all year long to put on the Rodeo, it is the support and involvement of the community and the local businesses that have propelled the event into a level of class and far-reaching impact that no one ever expected.
The vision in the beginning was to find a way to raise money for equipment needed for the Sheriff’s Department that would not have to be procured through taxing the county, and that continues to be the case. However, it has been the addition of the Special Needs Rodeo and the Queen’s pageant that have made a difference that far exceeds paying for the helicopter, or getting new cruisers with the latest technology. In a word, the Sheriff’s Rodeo helps make our community stronger.
“The Rodeo does a great service for the whole community, and for me, the Special Needs Rodeo is highly gratifying. We try to do something that’s unique, and it gets bigger every year. We just could not do it without the level of support we get from the community, and the hard work of Special Needs Rodeo Director, Dawn Blakely, and her crew,” said Cain. He went on to tell me that “the Athens Gas Department grills all the hot dogs. The Fire Department shows up, puts on displays, and the kids can climb on the trucks and see them. The Lions Club brings the little train and gives free rides, and we rent a second train as well.” Of course there is also the parade that does not charge a fee to enter, the free pony rides, the dance, the Slack event that serves as a reward program for winners of the Leader In Me curriculum that has been such a positive part of developing our elementary school kids. But the other event that has wonderfully “taken on a life of its own” is the Queen’s Pageant.
Paul then said, “People really need to know that everything Mike Blakely has done to make the Rodeo, Debbie Blakely has done to make the Queen’s Pageant.” He went on to tell me that at the Miss Rodeo USA pageant, (the national one held back in January in Oklahoma City), 9 of the 17 final contestants had been in the Athens pageant. “We have evolved into what the Queen’s pageant now is strictly due to word of mouth,” Paul said. In other words, girls make a point of competing at our Sheriff’s rodeo because of the excellent preparation it gives them for the national contest. “Our pageant really is second to none,” he said.
While the girls don’t do barrel bending any more as part of their riding events, there are patterns they must ride that are quite exacting, and excellent horsemanship is a must. For example, the riding routine that is part of the presentation of the colors on opening night of the Rodeo is intricate, and is one of the parts of the judging process. Because of the tireless efforts of Debbie and her team, a high standard is being set. “It is very involved and stridently judged,” Paul said.
In addition, if you or a child wish to learn how to walk a runway, have poise, improve your communication skills, do public speaking, effectively learn what used to be covered in a bygone era in what was known as “charm school,” you can. Debbie and her team put on an intensive clinic for girls as young as age 5, and on up to 26. The best part is that you don’t have to be a contestant!
“The Queens from all the age groups really become a group of ambassadors for our area,” Paul said, and he could not be prouder of our current Queen, Kalynn Clinard. “She is the consummate ambassador,” he said. “She has worked at nursing homes, Fiddlers’ Convention, all kinds of places.” He said that her attitude to serve our area has showed “true dedication to the promotion of the rodeo and the pageant.”
This is just a part of what is waiting for you to experience come May, and we hope you will turn out with your whole family. There will be something for everyone at the 33 Annual Limestone County Sheriff’s Rodeo.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner