Brown makes hometown proud with calf roping win

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 8, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Waiting for his turn in the calf-roping event Friday night at the Seventh Annual Gates County Rodeo, Aaron Brown could be sure of just about everything.

The rodeo coordinator knew that his own skills in roping the animal, wrestling it to the ground and hog-tying it at high speed were secure; he’d been doing it for 20 years, including every year of his hometown event. He was certain that his quarter horse, Smoky, was quick enough to spurt out of the gates after the starting buzzer sounded (to go sooner would have resulted in a 10-second penalty). He also knew that, should he not win the event, his friends and neighbors would be chiding him about it until the next year’s rodeo.


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But there was one thing Brown couldn’t predict – the ability of his prey. Would the miniature cow be able to surprise Smoky with a quick burst out of the chute? Might it be agile enough to avoid Brown’s lasso or to get away from him while he attempted to tie its hooves together?

Brown wasn’t sure. But he didn’t really have time to think about it.

The buzzer sounded, and he and Smoky shot off after the calf. After two swings of his rope, Brown let fly, and snared the animal around the neck. It fell backwards, and Brown leapt off Smoky, held the calf to the dirt, and roped it up as the audience roared.

When all was said, done and roped, Brown had made his countymen home proud – with a time of 12.68 seconds, he came out on top.

&uot;I just concentrated on roping him,&uot; Brown said. &uot;His legs were small, and I could hear the crowd hollering.&uot;

They had a great deal to cheer for; the event took the thousands in attendance on a journey through all of rodeo’s most enjoyable offerings, from bronco and bull riding to barrel racing (a portion of proceeds went to the Gates County Fire and Rescue Squad).

Before, during and after every bull ride, said Joseph Batchelor, 16, of Beaulaville, N.C., riders gather and ask for help from the real person in control.

&uot;Several times before we go out, we get together and pray,&uot; he said. &uot;We don’t just pray for ourselves and for the bulls; we pray for everyone out here.&uot;

In nearly three years of riding, Batchelor has been stomped on, suffered damaged kidneys, a cracked wrist, a torn leg tendon, and had a bull’s horn jammed through his jaw.

&uot;The good Lord watches out for me,&uot; he said. &uot;When I’m on a bull, there’s no one out there except me and the bull. All my worries go away, except for the bull.&uot;

After more than three decades of trying to spend eight seconds atop a powerful beast, Stephen Saunders might have been ready to quit.

&uot;When I was 11, my cousin and I ran a bull into a milk chute, and I roped him and started riding him,&uot; said the Disputanta resident. &uot;My daddy said that if I wanted to do that, I should learn to do it right. He entered me in a rodeo, and I liked it.&uot;

So much so, he didn’t stop until the age of 40 (a journey that included the 1964 state championship).

&uot;I started seeing men my age walking around with their heads down, looking sad,&uot; said Saunders, now 57. Hoping that a display of physical ability at his age could inspire his friends, he returned to riding.

&uot;Ever since then, my friends have been going to the gym, working out, looking happy,&uot; he said.

While Batchelor and Saunders were riding the larger animals, John Harvey leapt atop a bucking bronco – without a saddle.

&uot;This is all I use,&uot; he said, holding up a small handle that’s tied around the bull’s stomach. &uot;It’s like a suitcase handle.

&uot;Bull riding’s easier (than bareback),&uot; he said. &uot;Bareback riders are the tough guys of rodeo. Bulls are slower, and not as strong. When you first jump out of the chute on a bronco, you’ve got 600 pounds of pressure on one arm.&uot;

Bull riders are allowed to grasp the handle with just one hand; touching themselves or the bull with the other results in a penalty.

&uot;You beat the horse to the ground, and when she comes back up, you move back to handle her,&uot; Harvey said. &uot;You jam your feet into the front end to take the pressure off your shoulders.&uot;

Debbie Conway’s ride was just a bit steadier; she raced her quarter horse, Tuffy, around the track in a barrel race. &uot;It’s the biggest adrenaline rush when you’re out there,&uot; said Duck, N.C., native. &uot;I tried it two years ago, and I was hooked. When you’re out there, you go as fast as you can go, and don’t knock over a barrel.&uot;

Even the children in the crowd got into the fun of things; a calf race was held, in which all the children under 10 came out on the track and piled on the left end. A calf with a ribbon tied to its tail was let out the right side, and the kids bolted after it.

The calf first launched toward the left side of the track, then charged toward the right. As it made its way up the right side of the track, 9-year-old Robert Williford reached out, grabbed the ribbon, and won a new bike.

&uot;I ran straight at it, and grabbed when it came up next to me,&uot; he said. &uot;I was looking at it the whole time. I’ve been coming for three years, and I can’t believe I finally got it!&uot;

The rodeo will have its second go-round at 7:30 tonight, with a barn dance following.