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Hang on tight -- the rodeo's in town

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Auburn’s caught up in the middle of a stampede, and that’s a good thing. While Wild West Week officially kicked off Wednesday, the real action come thundering in this weekend with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo. “We feel it’s very important to keep this Western lifestyle available to everyone,” said Julia Bourriague, a rodeo director. “The West was won by cowboys and cowgirls who settled out here.” The National Weather Service reports rodeo-friendly weekend weather, with highs in the mid-60s today, low 70s Saturday and right around 70 degrees Sunday. Get a taste of what the weekend has in store, for free, with Jackpot team roping, set to begin at 9 a.m. today at the Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St. Team roping, along with the barrel racing held Thursday, are hugely popular amateur Western sports and many local racers and ropers, as well as pros in town for the Stampede rodeo, signed up to compete for jackpot cash and buckles. Thousands of fans are expected to file into the Gold Country Fairgrounds this weekend. Rodeo-goers can show up as early as 11 a.m. both days, when the Cowboy Corral Trading Post opens for business. Some 30 vendors are slated to be on hand during the weekend, selling their Western wares. Mutton bustin’ is the first grandstands event Saturday and Sunday that requires you use your rodeo ticket. Little cowboys and cowgirls, ages 4 to 8, hang on tight to wooly sheep as they run out into the arena. Pre-registration is required at www.AuburnRodeo.com. Rodeo fires up at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Opening ceremonies and entertainment include the U.S. Army Color Guard, the California Cowgirls mounted drill team and KAHI AM 950 National Anthem contest winners. Children ages 12 and under were given a chance to audition for the opportunity to sing the national anthem at the start of Saturday and Sunday’s rodeo. Chelsea Belle Lowery is scheduled to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” Saturday. On Sunday, it’s Madyson Mazzola’s turn. Another highlight of Saturday’s rodeo is the crowning of Miss Auburn Stampede and Jr. Miss Stampede, which caps off an intensive two-month preparation of horseback and presentation skills. Rodeo is still the main attraction, and both Saturday and Sunday will be packed with bull riding, team roping, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel races and bareback and saddle bronc riding. Bourriague said more than 200 contestants from throughout the state and beyond are signed up to compete. “It’s just thrilling,” Bourriague said of the rodeo. “The animals and the people, they’re the athletes, and to see two athletes at their prime, it’s exciting.” Crowds on Saturday will be treated to the Rockin’ Rodeo VIP Party immediately after the rodeo with live music by the Chris Gardner Band. “We find that every year there’s a good group of people hanging around and talking after the rodeo,” said Karen Spencer, rodeo spokeswoman. “We figured we might as well make it into a party. It just seemed like the natural thing to do.” The party runs from roughly 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the fairgrounds, Spencer said. The festivities continue with the Pistol Pete’s Saloon Rodeo Dance, with the Rich Allen Band, kicking off at 9 p.m. Saturday. You must be 21 to enjoy this party. Sunday starts with cowboy church at 11 a.m. in the grandstands. This is offered free to the public. The Stampede also holds the Dick Foster Special Kids Rodeo each year for children with physical or developmental disabilities. The Special Kids’ Rodeo begins at noon Sunday. Call Betty Estep at (916) 782-8969 to learn more about the Special Kids Rodeo. Learn more about the rodeo at AuburnRodeo.com. __________ Calendar of events Events are held at the Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn, unless noted otherwise. Call (530) 889-2825 or visit www.AuburnRodeo.com for information. Friday 9 a.m. - Jackpot team roping begins, continues all day Free; open to the public Saturday 11 a.m. - Cowboy Corral Trading Post General Merchandise opens; free admission 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. 9 p.m. - Pistol Pete's Saloon Rodeo Dance, featuring Rich Allen Band, at 140 Harrison Ave., Auburn. $5 cover. Must be 21. Sunday 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.