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Santa Maria Elks Rodeo Kicks Off 74th Edition

Mini Rodeo lets students sample action as four-day event gets underway

A young barrel rider bears a determined face during compeition at the Santa Maria Elks Mini Rodeo on Thursday. Click to view larger
A young barrel rider bears a determined face during compeition at the Santa Maria Elks Mini Rodeo on Thursday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Thousands of flag-waving students filled the stands Thursday at the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center, where children rode sheep, teens raced horses around barrels, men got tossed off bulls and motorcycles flew through the air.

The Minetti Mini Rodeo, held the morning of the first Elks Rodeo performance and named for co-founder the late Clarence Minetti, lets youths sample rodeo before the professional action occurs the next four days.

Approximately 6,000 third-graders and other students from the Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Ynez valleys in addition to southern San Luis Obispo County filled the stands at the rodeo grounds.

In addition to bull riding involving professional athletes, the young audience members saw their peers compete, racing around barrels in the arena, with the next generation of Branquinho rodeo competitors among youths showing off their skills. 

The rodeo field trip aligns with the third-grade curriculum that includes students learning about their community, and is made possible by sponsors helping pay for transportation and other expenses.

“The Elks Rodeo is a special Santa Maria tradition, and the Mini Rodeo is a great way to introduce students to this important aspect of the community's heritage and civic involvement," said Maggie White, Santa Maria-Bonita School District spokeswoman. 

“For many of the children, the Mini Rodeo is their first experience seeing bull riding, calf roping and barrel racing. They love it,” she added. “The Mini Rodeo shows them a whole new world and one that is distinctly Santa Marian." 

Rodeo clown Robbie Hodges led the students and teachers through an enthusiastic rendition of the shuffle slide, thousands of stomping feet clanging the metal bleachers. 

Students were given small American flags to wave Thursday and take home.

“That flag is the reason you got to come to the rodeo today," the announcer said. "That is America.”

The mini rodeo marked the start of the 74th annual Santa Maria Elks Rodeo’s four-day run.

Decked out in straw hats, students from La Canada School in Lompoc watch the Flying Cowboys perform motorcycle stunts on Thursday morning at the Santa Maria Elks Mini Rodeo. The rodeo has opened its four-day run. Click to view larger
Decked out in straw hats, students from La Canada School in Lompoc watch the Flying Cowboys perform motorcycle stunts on Thursday morning at the Santa Maria Elks Mini Rodeo. The rodeo has opened its four-day run. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The PRCA Champions Challenge began at 7 p.m. Thursday.

More Elks Rodeo action  is planned for Friday through Sunday. On Friday, competition begins at 7 p.m. while Saturday’s starts at 6 p.m. Gates opens two hours before arena action starts.

Competition will include bull riding, bareback riding, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping and barrel racing. More mutton bustin' also is planned, and the Flying Cowboys will provide entertainment.

The rodeo’s closing final day Sunday will be a matinee performance with a 2 p.m. start time.

Outside the arena, the rodeo grounds includes activities for youths and adults. In addition to Camp Buckeroo for children, the event will hold kids’ stick horse races and a silver dollar scramble. 

For adults, the Western Market Place offers food, beverages and more.

Daily concerts also are scheduled, with Josh Gracin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, The Railers at 5:30 p.m. Friday, JD Hardy at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and The Molly Ringwald Project at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Other activities include the crowning of the 2017 Elks Rodeo Queen, the top fundraiser from a field of five candidates, during Friday night’s performance, and the Elks Rodeo Parade, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday and traveling south on Broadway between Main Street and Enos Drive.

On Saturday, Cowboys Kickin’ Cancer will offer a VIP rodeo experience for a $10 donation to raise money for families whose children are battling cancer. 

Tickets range from $20 for adults and $12 for children 12 and younger plus senior citizens ages 62 and older. Box seats are $45. Admission is free for active-duty military members and their families (up to four members). 

The 2017 Elks Rodeo will draw national attention, with performances Saturday and Sunday to be broadcast on Wrangler Network, available by clicking here.

Additionally, Thursday night’s action will air on CBS Sports Network June 10.

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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