By REID TUCKER
A summer thunderstorm delayed the start of Paxton’s inaugural Ride for a Cure Rodeo but the weather did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the hundreds of fans that attended the first-annual charity event.
More than 500 people bought tickets to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office-sponsored rodeo, good enough to quickly recoup the costs associated with hosting the event while raising an estimated $4,000 in the process. The rodeo was held on what turned out to be the damp evening of Saturday, Aug. 20, behind the WCSO Paxton Substation. The money from ticket sales, minus expenses, will go to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s ongoing fight against type 1 diabetes, something close to the heart of Sheriff Mike Adkinson, whose daughter has the disease.
Adkinson said the Ride for a Cure Rodeo, which featured all the usual rodeo sights from fresh-spun cotton candy to brightly dressed clowns and bucking bulls, was a “perfect fit” for Paxton and the north end of Walton County.
“[This event] is for a wonderful cause but it’s also an investment in this community,” Adkinson said. “It’s something the people of Paxton can have and be part of and be proud of. This is a community that was ready for an event tailored for this area.”
Adkinson said the event would not have been possible without donations of time and resources from the city of Paxton, local businesses and members of the community, many of whom stayed out until 4 a.m. assembling the arena on the morning before the rodeo was to take place. A few rodeo-loving WCSO deputies including Caleb Davidson, the founder and organizer of the “Cancer Freeze” winter waterskiing charity fundraiser, and Johnny Whitaker, the rodeo clown who entertained the crowd between events, also volunteered their time, equipment and expertise.
Adkinson said the community’s commitment underscored the family-centric attitude he sees as one of the WCSO’s main values. Furthermore, he said plans are already in the works to hold an even bigger rodeo next year.
“It’s good clean family fun and there’s just not enough of that,” Adkinson said. “Anytime we can support [families] we’re going to do it. This is something we want to build on every year. To me it’s a better use of time and money to invest in our youth. We’re trying to branch out more and be more involved in supporting the kids.”
The rodeo had 39 entrants across six different divisions ranging from the sheep riding for the youngest cowboys and cowgirls to professional-level barrel racing and bull riding featuring contestants from the Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association. The big winners of the evening were Leslie Cauley, who set the fastest time in the women’s barrel roping competition, young Rhett Shivers, who won the sheep riding event with 75 points, and pro rider Logan Drummond, who took top spot in the bull riding event with a score of 74. Drummond also lasted 7.2 tense seconds before being thrown from the back of Mason’s Dream, the rodeo’s “bounty bull” worth a $300 bonus to the rider who could hold on past the vaunted eight-second mark.
Though the Ride for a Cure charity remained a serious rodeo at its core, it was also an opportunity for Christian outreach, said Pastor Jerrod Jenkins, who leads Holmes County’s God is Faithful Ministries, the group that organized and officiated the rodeo. Jenkins’ organization puts on rodeo-themed youth Bible camps, holds “cowboy church” every Thursday in Bonifay and hosts Christian rodeos throughout the Florida Panhandle, of which the Ride for a Cure was one of its most recent.
Jenkins, who participated in rodeos from a young age, said the sport holds a special place in his heart but also, years ago, led him down a road to the drug addiction that nearly killed him. The cowboy-turned-pastor said his Christian faith “pulled [him] back from the brink” and he now uses his love for roping and riding to reach out to others.
“Rodeos usually draw a pretty rough crowd and bull riders themselves are pretty rough,” Jenkins said. “I want to take the gospel that saved me to those people. There are folks that will go to a rodeo that won’t step foot in a church, so we try our very best to do what God’s laid on our hearts to do. Those people need to hear God’s truth too.”
God is Faithful Ministries’ outreach has grown exponentially since starting three years ago, Jenkins said, and the group has hosted between 30 and 40 rodeos in that time. Additionally, the church takes a group of young cowboys and cowgirls to compete across the state and has even gone as far afield as Oklahoma, home of the National Junior Bull Riders Association’s Final rodeo of the year. He is hopeful that next year’s Ride for a Cure will be an even greater success.
“I think everything went extremely well, even given the weather,” Jenkins said. “Next year will be better and the next year will be better than that. If we’re faithful the Lord will take care of the rest.”
For more information about the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, visit www.jdrf.org and visit godisfaithfulministries.net or call (850) 956-9924 for more information about God is Faithful Ministries’ upcoming events.