The Efland Ruritan Club held its 26th annual rodeo this past Friday and Saturday, but the event almost didn’t happen this year.
“We talked about not doing it again, because it is a lot of work,” said Anthony Cecil, Chairman of the Rodeo Committee for the Ruritan Club. “This thing has become bigger than we are.”
The question of whether to continue the rodeo arose after the retirement of the previous chairman. Cecil, a former president of the Ruritan Club, stepped up to take over the position. He worked with the Southern Rodeo Association and Rafter 3 Rodeo Company to help keep the event alive this year.
“After the same man’s done it 25 years, someone’s scared to step up. And I was I guess foolish enough to do it,” Cecil said with a laugh.
The rodeo is the biggest fundraiser for the Efland Ruritan Club. Started 26 years ago by brothers Bill and Mike Efland, the rodeo began as an idea to pay back some of the Ruritan Club’s debt from purchasing their property. Now, some of the proceeds also go towards scholarships for Orange County schools.
“Everybody thought it was crazy at the time,” said Cecil. “It has brought us a long way.”
The rodeo is held yearly on the first weekend of October at the Efland Ruritan Club. Cowboys and cowgirls from Ohio to Georgia come to compete in bareback and saddle bronc riding, team and calf roping, barrel racing, and bull riding. Spectators come out each autumn evening to enjoy the sport, which has roots in the lifestyle of working vaqueros and cowboys across the Americas.
As the sun went down and the dusty field lit up, the American flag rippled in the hands of a cowgirl on horseback. Cowboys participating in the first event, bareback bronc riding, removed their hats and bowed their heads as the announcer led them in prayer. Not long after, the first horse came barreling out of the bucking chute in a cloud of dust and flying limbs.
Cole Hartsell, a 20-year-old cowboy from Statesville, N.C., led the saddle bronc competition on Friday night with 73 out of 100 points.
“I’ve been doing this pretty much my whole life,” Hartsell said, tobacco tucked in his lip. “My family rodeoed and I kind of grew up in it. I probably started riding broncs when I was 15 or so.”
Contestants who were leading on Friday night still had a chance to be overthrown by a new round of contestants on Saturday. Many of Friday night’s competitors were already on their way to another rodeo. Hartsell’s lead was overtaken by Kenneth Glick of South Carolina on Saturday night.
“Tonight’s a whole new group of cowboys and cowgirls,” announcer Jeff Wolfe said on Saturday. “We’ll take the best times, the best runs, the highest scores from those two nights and crown a winner. Just because you did good last night, and you might be in the lead, doesn’t mean that somebody tonight can’t knock you off.”
The rodeo continues to be a family-friendly event that keeps people returning year after year, though the announcer jokingly warned that if a bucking horse jumped over the fence, someone would have to “throw him back in. But if a cowboy jumps over, you can keep him.”
“I’ve always felt it was a safe environment,” Cecil said. “Ever since [my children] were little, I’ve always felt I could bring them here.”