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Cracker Day rodeo draws thousands

January 25, 2017
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

Every year, the Cracker Day Rodeo serves as the biggest fundraiser for the Lee County Posse Arena, and judging by the crowds that came this weekend, especially on Saturday, a lot of money will enter their coffers so it can carry on with the rest of the year.

The three performances, Friday evening's youth rodeo and the regular rodeo on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon brought in crowds that satisfied Brent Ray, president of the arena, though the threat of rain on Sunday kept crowds down.

"Sunday was better than Friday night, but not as good as Saturday. Still, I'm happy," Ray said. "We had people calling us asking whether we were going to have rain, and we didn't, just a lot of wind."

Article Photos

Hannah Eagleheart tries to lasso a calf during the tea roping event at the Cracker Day Rodeo at the Lee County Posse Arena on Saturday.


Those who came to compete and watch the 55th edition of the event were helping the arena continue to operate for the kids, teaching them to rope and ride and do something positive with their lives.

People like Cracker Day Rodeo queen Madisyn Freeland, 15, who has learned to compete in many of the rodeo disciplines and be the face of the event.

"I greet people and give out the awards, which makes my day. I love giving those little kids awards and buckles," Freeland said. "I've been riding for a long time, but I started competing about five years ago. I hope I can make the rodeo business my life."

That's important to Ray, and to Al Curry, whose family came here in the 18th century.

The Cracker Day rodeo is about lifestyle and tradition; a celebration of the ranchers and farmers who make up the real Florida.

"For me, it helps preserve our Florida heritage, our cattle families and the interior Florida people. It's different from what we see on the coast," Curry said. "Florida is one of the top three states for feeder calves which produces beef for the country."

Friday's youth rodeo brought in the traditional families and friends to watch their loved ones turn and burn, rope and other rodeo events.

Saturday brought the fans, who after a round of mutton busting nearly packed the place to see bull riding, team and breakaway roping, barrel racing and even the buddy pick-up, the wildest event of them all.

Those who came Sunday had the opportunity to see eight-time world champion Joe Beaver compete, and they weren't disappointed as he won the team roping. His wife competed in barrel racing, but she knocked over a barrel to stymie to her trip to the pay window.

With two big rodeos in the state going on at the same time, that brought in some of the top rodeo stars nationwide, even if it was for slack (which featured nearly 100 barrel racers on Saturday morning alone).

The riders and the fans got to see a fresher arena, with new lighting, signage and a fresh coat of paint.

The fans enjoyed themselves, no matter how many rodeos they came to.

Mark Gordon of Cape Coral had a lot of fun, especially the bull riding.

"One of our friends had a kid riding in the bull riding. We came to watch him," Gordon said. "My family was involved in the rodeo in Homestead that's 60 or 70 years old. My grandfather helped start it."

Leilani Hossain, from Cape Coral, was going to her first, and made sure she dressed for the occasion with her western shirt and bandana around her neck.

"I had a good time. I got a little bored when the acts changed, but it was a great new experience and I'll do it again," Hossain said. "I loved the mutton busting. I was surprised how young they were."



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