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Cracker Day Rodeo draws crowd

January 24, 2019
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

Judging by the crowds this past weekend at the 60th annual Cracker Day Rodeo, people really missed losing last year's event to a rainout caused by Hurricane Irma.

Good crowds came out on Friday and Saturday, and the families came out in full force on Sunday for the youth rodeo, a real sign that everything is back to business as usual at the Lee County Posse Arena.

The rodeo, which celebrates Florida ranchers who have worked the fields and cattle of interior Florida for centuries, serves as the biggest fundraiser for the Lee County Posse Arena, which was founded in 1960 and, for most of its time, has survived as an all-volunteer group.

Article Photos

Addison Roberts takes part in breakaway roping.

Kathy Cross, organizer for the rodeo, said it was wonderful to be back - especially for the younger kids who competed Sunday, since it's home away from home for many.

"It's a lot of work, but we're back in full swing and better than before," Cross said. "The kids love the junior rodeo because they like to perform and it keeps children off the streets."

Al Curry, who was the announcer for the 24th straight year, said many of the events at the rodeo are basically the same things that ranchers do all the time, such as branding, while serving as a fundraiser.

"When people pay their entry fees, or come in through the gate or buy at the concession stand, it helps the youth in the surrounding five counties," said Curry, who was riding Will, one of a set of twin horses born at the Sweet Cypress Ranch a decade ago.

The Friday and Saturday performances were more like traditional rodeos than in the past, where other unusual contests were held. It all started with mutton bustin' for the smallest athletes.

Jackson Ballard, age 2, was telling everyone he was going to ride a sheep. When it came time for him to ride, it was a short one.

Meanwhile, Caleb Thomason, 21, of Lake Placid, rode one of the big bulls at the end of Saturday's performance.

"A friend wanted me to do it so I gave it a try. It's fun. I wouldn't expect anyone to understand it until they got on one," said Thomason, who rides dozens of rodeos every year. "They'll want to do it again and again. It's an adrenaline rush."

Aubrey St. Pierre, 14, of Cape Coral, has been riding at the arena since she was 4. Her parents have been involved long before that and her grandfather helped found it.

"It's family-oriented and everyone is cheering you on. We rarely have problems and if we do, it always gets worked out," St. Pierre said. "It's a home away from home."

Nicole Turner, of Arcadia, who was competing in barrel racing, grew up at the arena and looks forward to the event every year, even if she doesn't compete much now because she is now raising a family of her own.

"I started when I was 8 and now I only do it for fun. The arena gave me something to work toward. I looked forward to it and it probably kept me out of trouble," Turner said. "I hate to admit that."



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