Sunday, August 19 , 2018, 8:38 pm | Fair 69º


Local News

Santa Maria Elks Give Youths Taste of Rodeo

72nd annual tradition runs through Sunday, and includes four performances and a Saturday parade

Youth rodeo athletes compete Thursday during the Minetti Mini Rodeo in Santa Maria. The four-day Santa Maria Elks Rodeo runs through Sunday at the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center.
Youth rodeo athletes compete Thursday during the Minetti Mini Rodeo in Santa Maria. The four-day Santa Maria Elks Rodeo runs through Sunday at the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Riding a sheep racing into a rodeo arena is akin to being on a dirt bike, first-time mutton bustin’ competitor Nicholas Romero discovered Thursday. 

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Nicholas Romero, left, and dad Aaron Romero pose for a photo after the boy won the Mutton Bustin' contest during the Minetti Mini Rodeo on Thursday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

His skills at hanging onto the woolly beast landed him the belt buckle and bragging rights as the top mutton bustin’ rider during the Minetti Mini Rodeo on Thursday morning when thousands of youngsters got a sampling of the sport.

The invitation-only Mini Rodeo where 6,000 students filled the stands is a prelude to the 72nd Annual Santa Maria Elks Rodeo, which kicked off Thursday night and continues through Sunday at the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center. Each performance will include a full slate of rodeo competition plus entertainment. A schedule is available by clicking here.

Before announcing this year’s Minetti Mini Buckeroo Award winners, volunteer Tony Gonzales noted it was dedicated this year to the late Rosalie Minetti, who died in April. The annual award is presented in honor of rodeo co-founder Clarence Minetti, who died in 2011, and his wife.

Clarence Minetti led the effort to introduce local youngsters to event through the mini rodeo, Gonzales said.

“This was his vision to see all you out here in the stands having a good time. Are you having a good time?” Gonzales asked as the  youngsters shouted affirmatively. “Then we see the completion of his vision.”

Among those in the audience was Michelle Smith, a Minetti granddaughter who teaches first grade at Guadalupe’s Mary Buren School.

“This was one their favorite events,” she said. “Seeing all of the kids in the grandstands is what truly made their day and to kick off the rodeo like this in their memory is very special. We’re very honored to be here and honor all of the award winners that epitomize what being a buckeroo is.”

Armed with small American flags students held high in the sky to wave, the youngsters stomped their feet on the metal stands and shouted on command during the event. With feet pounding on the metal stands, thousands of elementary school students cheered on athletes races.

A bulk of the students came campuses in Santa Maria-Bonita School District, but other students attend from Guadalupe, Lompoc and Lucia-Mar schools.

In addition to some pro rodeo participants, most of the competitors in the morning session were youths who compete in rodeo. 

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Seven-year-old Kaiden Fernandez of Santa Maria was the winner of the best dressed competition for the Mutton Bustin' competition during the Minetti Mini Rodeo. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“It’s kind of cool they see someone their own age,” Maggie White, spokeswoman of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, said of the youth audience. “It also gives our local rodeo contestants an opportunity to compete in front of an audience and it gives them the experience they need if they’re going to continue this on.”

Transportation costs for schools that send students — typically third-graders — is covered by the Elks so districts don’t have to scour their budgets to find the money to make the field trips happen. 

“The Elks just fantastically have all kinds of sponsors who make it possible for the students to be here from throughout Santa Maria Valley,” White said. “It’s the first time a lot of them have seen the rodeo.”

Teachers returned to school with a goodie bag filled with curriculum and teaching resources along with kid’s activity books for each student that included free admission for the students to encourage families to return.

“They see part of Santa Maria’s tradition that they might not have experienced before,” White said. “And the Elks and the rodeo is such a big part of Santa Maria. The rodeo money that’s raised allows the Elks to do the charitable activities throughout the year that make Santa Maria a great community. So we’re showing the kids this is the activity that raises the money that comes back to your community for youth sports and that kind of thing.”

White noted the event also attracts vast volunteer support from local organizations.

“With this many kids you need a lot of eyes and ears," White said. "The Elks make it possible and the volunteers make it safe and fun.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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