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home : arts & entertainment : arts & entertainment June 26, 2016

5/28/2013 1:27:00 PM
Rodeo brings ace crew to Sisters
Pickup men have a critical job in keeping rodeo cowboys safe in the arena. photo by Gary Miller
+ click to enlarge
Pickup men have a critical job in keeping rodeo cowboys safe in the arena. photo by Gary Miller

Bullfighters make their living getting between downed cowboys and a big load of bull. photo by Gary Miller
+ click to enlarge
Bullfighters make their living getting between downed cowboys and a big load of bull. photo by Gary Miller

Sisters Rodeo kicks off its 73rd award-winning rodeo with a night of nothin' but bull rides on Wednesday, June 5. Many national finalists, world champions and Hall of Fame bulls and cowboys guarantee an evening of boisterous fun and extremely satisfying action. A dance on the rodeo grounds after the event will cap the evening with great Western music.

At noon that same day, fans are welcome to the Bulldog Jackpot, free of charge, a Central Oregon tradition that has outgrown its former Tumalo ranch heritage.

Then, on Friday, June 7, the rodeo that prides itself on being the nation's biggest money-maker for contestants during the second weekend in June, begins at 7 p.m. and runs through the weekend with a total of five performances.

This rodeo draws not only the best rodeo competitors in the sport, but also brings top-of-the-line production staff of announcers, barrelmen, bullfighters and stock contractors to town.

Sisters was the first rodeo to hire barrelman and clown JJ Harrison, taking a chance on the young, fresh, former school-teacher to keep the rodeo crowd entertained. Although his primary job is to keep bulls focused on him - not cowboys - after a ride, rodeo fans across the nation wait in anticipation for his belly-laugh humor and antics during the entire rodeo.

In 2012, after only six years on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys circuit, Harrison was hired for Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, winning this honor by a vote of his peers.

"JJ has guaranteed that our rodeo has non-stop action," said Arena Director John Leavitt. "With him and the rest of our team, we have a great crew."

With accolades of his own, horseback announcer Wayne Brooks has twice been chosen the national Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Announcer of the Year. He travels from Texas to share his rodeo knowledge with fans and add entertaining color commentary that keeps the action fresh.

"Wayne Brooks is so relaxed that he makes his job look easy," said Bonnie Malone, who works closely with the rodeo announcers. "He is a pure professional with a velvet voice, peppering his banter with humor and commentary, and making the crowd feel like part of the action."

Brooks' announcing partner in the booth is a 21-year veteran announcer at Sisters Rodeo, Curt Robinson. A Pendleton native, Robinson is an encyclopedia of rodeo statistics and competitor biographies. He has no superior in bringing interesting facts and personal stories about competitors and stock to share with the audience.

"The knowledge of Robinson can't be matched," Vice President Curt Kallberg said. "He is professional and generous, and is a part of our rodeo family. We hope he knows how much we appreciate him as a professional and friend."

Two bullfighters who have demonstrated some fearless and stunningly athletic feats to protect bull riders will be in the arena as part of the Sisters tradition. In 2012, Rowdy Barry, another 21-year veteran as a Sisters bullfighter, and Dan Newman, back for his ninth year, put on a heroic display of protecting a rider.

When a cowboy's spur was caught in the bull rope after a ride, the bull bolted to the corner and bucked through the exit gate while Barry and Newman scrambled to release the spur. This risky situation ended well because of their efforts and the quick action of stripping chute volunteers. The cowboy returned to cheers from the fans. The bullfighters went back to work.

"It is fascinating to watch these bullfighters in potentially dangerous situations, and see first-hand how important they are," said Tom Crowder, a rodeo board member who works in the arena.

Pick-up riders, who gallop their horses next to a bucking horse so a rider has a safe exit, work in extremely dangerous conditions. These horses and riders are probably the most under-appreciated personalities in a rodeo, moving quickly, quietly and steadily in a job that would send most horses into a spooked frenzy. The sheer steadiness of them at work is a testament to their training. They are part of the staff of Flying Diamond Stock Contractors.

Flying Diamond brings a herd of horses, bulls, calves and steers that promise dramatic rides, good runs and high points for cowboys. Any rodeo is only as good as its stock contractor, whose crew keeps the tempo upbeat mostly because of their tremendous organizational capacity.

"We use Flying Diamond because they give us the same quality of service that we got from Beard Rodeos, which they purchased," said rodeo President Glenn Miller. "Every year, their stock improves, with more and more of them going to National Finals. Mike Corey inherited a fine stock company and is making it even better."

Among the bucking stock are many national finals rodeo contenders, who get there only because of their bucking prowess and their own ability to add points to a ride. One of these is King of Hearts, a Hall of Fame bull who is retiring this year after a long and very successful career. Fans will see him at Sisters for his last hurrah.

Fans across the nation return to Sisters every year because of the great quality of this rodeo. Sisters has gained a reputation for attracting and hiring some of the best contract help in the sport. It truly is "The Biggest Little Show in the World."

Sisters Rodeo has five performances on June 5 and 7-9.

For tickets and information, call the ticket hotline at 541-549-0121 or 1-800-827-7522, or visit the ticket office, 220 W. Cascade Ave. in Sisters.

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