Scott Hansen of Leesburg rode his first bull ever a year ago and failed to make the required 8-second time limit. Friday, he drew a bull named G.E., which pitched him off instantly like a flicked flea.
Sterling taxidermist Jay McKeever had no better luck, parting company with Tar Baby just outside of the bucking chute. But Joel Thomas of Leesburg "covered" his bull and made his time before handlers helped him safely to the ground.
But then Thomas had a slight advantage: He grew up in South Dakota and took part in Little Britches rodeos there much as a kid from Springfield plays weekend soccer.
It was all part of Frying Pan Park's second annual indoor "Wild East" Rodeo last weekend. About 10,000 eager spectators bucked the rain to pile into the park's indoor activities center for five performances.
Officially sanctioned by the Rodeo Cowboys of America (RCA), the three-day Championship Rodeo, held for the second year at Fairfax County's popular model farm park south of Herndon, drew 200 participating cowboys and cowgirls, most from eastern seaboard states.
Whether they arrived in custom RV's or rattletrap trucks, each contestant hoped to tote home a slice of the prize money pie and to earn RCA "points" in seven popular rodeo events.
Behind it all was veteran entrepreneur Kenny Brown, owner of the Triple K rodeo company in Hagerstown, Md. Brown produced the rodeo, supplying livestock, handlers, equipment and entertainment in cooperation with the Fairfax County Park Authority, which manages the county-owned arena. Brown's outfit handles 30 such contests each year from Maine to Florida.
Although the rodeo competition played to sellout crowds for several of the scheduled performances, not everyone on hand came to cheer. Before each show, picket lines were set up outside the main entrance by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, a Washington-based citizens coalition. Members handed out literature and entreated spectators to boycott what they consider to be a cruel and inhumane sport.
Preparations for the competition took place inside the arena on opening night Friday. Announcer Bill Ellis climbed the high ladder to a crow's-nest platform. His custom-made python cowboy boots hooked smartly on each ladder rung as he climbed.
Rodeo clown Bobby Paul, badly gored last year when a bull drove seven inches of horn into his liver, stood in a corner of the holding pen petting Archie Bunker, a donkey he would later use in his act. Archie swished his tail idly. Paul, a free-lance rodeo clown in his early thirties, has worked various rodeo circuits for 10 years and thinks he has another decade of clowning ahead.
This night he would work with a new partner, Tim Groves from Leesburg. Groves, carpenter by winter, rodeo clown the rest of the year, walked around outside the arena holding B.J., the family's pet monkey, on a long leash.
Spectators milled around concession stands, where such wares as rattlesnake hides and porcupine quill earrings were for sale.
Long coils of Italian sausage sizzled on the grill of Kimble's takeout food wagon. Dusty Kimble said she would have liked to bring some deer sausage down from the packing house she and her husband Ed run in Bedford, Pa., but it can't be sold legally in Virginia.
"Anyhow," said Dusty, indicating the crowd's composition, "most suburbs people don't like venison."
Then the rodeo was under way. For 2 1/2 hours, saddle bronc riders were pitched from bucking mounts, team ropers ran downstairs with whistling lariats and cowgirls executed dime flash turns around barrels.
But the Super Bowl event, as is the case at any rodeo, was the bull riding. Ellis announced it as "the most dangerous event in professional sports."
The three Loudoun County men who competed nodded amen to that. All RCA riders are required to carry insurance and to sign a release form absolving any other party from liability in case of accident or death. Bull riders, who pit themselves against the muscle and rage of bulls weighing as much as a ton, do so at great risk to life and limb. And since mechanical bulls have all but disappeared form cowboy nightspots in the East, bull riders have nowhere to practice their skills.
When it was all over and the audience had traipsed out into the rain-soaked night, a member of the cleanup crew came across a disco dude version of a cowboy hat beneath the now-empty bleachers.
"Must of belonged to one of them urban cowboys," he remarked to a companion.