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Crowd fills arena for rodeo thrills

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Perfect weather and world championship-caliber performances were a winning combination at the rodeo in Auburn Saturday. “We were packed today,” Karen Spencer, rodeo spokeswoman said Saturday afternoon. “We had an excellent turnout. I would say that we are equal to last year. Presale tickets this year were the highest they’ve ever been.” Spencer didn’t have a crowd count, but noted after the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association competition ended, that about 500 people remained at the Gold Country Fairgrounds waiting for the band to start. “We come every year, we love the animals and the people who support rodeo,” said Vicky Lopiccolo of Grass Valley. “We own acreage so we have cows and horses.” The bull riding, team roping, steer wrestling and bronco riding events radiated even more energy than usual with National Finals Rodeo competitors entering the fray. “We had a lot of contestants who were world champions,” Spencer said. “That really gets the crowd excited when they know they’re watching a world champion. There were more (NFR riders) than we’ve had in the last couple of years.” The lineup drew some rave reviews. “Auburn hosts one of the best rodeos,” said Chris Whitehead, Auburn businessman and retired 19-year veteran rodeo steer wrestler. “We have some of the greatest fans here. We have a great arena. It’s more personal and that’s why we always draw great crowds and some of the best cowboys in rodeo.” Another crowd pleaser was the mutton bustin’, a favorite with 4- to 8-year-olds, who get a chance to see how long they can ride a sheep in the arena. “I did pretty good, my sheep just went a couple of feet and laid down,” said Sam Wren, 7, who has ridden in mutton bustin’ events in Truckee and Auburn before putting his skills to the test again Saturday. One of the special moments of the day came when Chelsea Belle Lowery, 12, sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” “There wasn’t a sound in the house,” Spencer said. Chelsea auditioned with other area youth ages 12 and under for the honor. Another foothills preteen, Madyson Mazzola, will perform the national anthem today. Today’s rodeo activities include cowboy church, the Dick Foster Special Kids Rodeo and more mutton bustin ,along with the PRCA Pro rodeo competition. “We’d like to encourage people to come early to support the Special Kids Rodeo,” Spencer said. The event pairs special needs children with a PRCA cowboy or cowgirl. “They ride rocking horse bulls and rocking horse broncs and they get to interact with the cows,” Spencer said. “The stampede competition hosts their families to stay and watch the rodeo. We like to have a lot of people here to cheer them on.” There’s no charge to attend the cowboy church gathering, which features Willie Knoernschield, a cowboy who travels to rodeos around the country holding services, Spencer said. Michael Kirby contributed to this story. The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com ---------- Sunday's rodeo schedule 11 a.m. – Cowboy church with Willie Knoernschield in arena grandstands; free 11 a.m. – Cowboy Corral Trading Post General Merchandise opens; free admission Noon – Dick Foster Special Kids Rodeo in rodeo arena; rodeo ticket required; advance registration on the Web 1 p.m. – Mutton bustin’ in rodeo arena; rodeo ticket required. Pre-registration available on the Web. 2 p.m. – PRCA Pro Rodeo starts; events include bull riding, team roping, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel races and bareback and saddle bronc riding. Rodeo ticket required.