Getting ready for the dust to fly

DAYTON – Before the dust can fly during the Dayton Championship Rodeo Labor Day weekend, a great deal of elbow grease is required at the arena.

Volunteers from the Dayton Wrangler Saddle Club converge on the natural amphitheater for four to five hours each night during the last two weeks leading up to the annual rodeo to mend fences, cut grass, paint posts, upgrade lighting and sound equipment and build new ticket booths.

This labor, said Clayton Bills, president of the saddle club, is in addition to the regular year-round maintenance done to keep the grounds in top shape.

“We’re working right up to showtime,” he said. “Everyone comes down after they get off work and puts in the effort because the rodeo keeps the town and our club alive. It brings in people to the local businesses, and it makes it possible for our club to keep all of our events and projects going.”

More than 12,000 spectators lined the hillside to watch the four performances produced last year.

Those spectators also roamed among the tables and booths of the flea market vendors set up on top of the hill, snacked on items sold by local nonprofit groups, and rode carnival rides set up in Oak Park. In addition, rodeo competitors from across the nation arrived in town, adding to the population influx and throwing a few more dollars into the community coffers.

Aside from the financial boon the event provides, Clayton said those who provide the sweat equity for improving the rodeo grounds do it for the sense of continuing a tradition.

“I personally grew up down here,” he said, “rolling around in the dirt piles, playing in the sand and riding my pony. This is the only place I’ve ever been on Labor Day. I’ve never missed a show in 24 years. It’s in my blood.”

This year, he said, Cervi Rodeo Co. will return with quality livestock, which in turn attracts nationally-ranked, professional cowboys to take a ride on bucking bulls and high-kicking horses in the rough stock competitions. Barrel racers and team ropers will also try their skills in the arena.

Providing the comic relief between thrills will be a new specialty act, Clayton said.

Keith Isley, from Goldston, North Carolina, will serve as a rodeo clown, barrel man and performer.

His talents include trick roping, trick riding and training various animal acts.

He also is an experienced bull fighter, protecting the cowboys by drawing the bull’s attention once the cowboy is off its back.

“The rodeo is a great family event,” Bills said. “It’s worth all the time and energy we put into it. It’s just a good time for everyone.”