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“Better Than NASCAR”

Pickup rider John Stalans wrangles a bull out of the arena at the Spur’n S Rodeo. Photos by Dan Cullinane

By Dan Cullinane
Freelance Writer

As the sun was setting over Johnson County Friday night, a large, enthusiastic crowd poured into Chamber Park for the non-stop action of the Spur’n S Bulls and Barrels Rodeo.With thirty minutes to go until, as the announcer put it, the greatest show on dirt, Greta Van Fleet’s hard-rocking Safari Song filled the evening air, and fans chowed down on funnel cake and Uncle Him’s Barbecue, while behind the chutes, cowboys readied their gear, bulls snorted and slammed their thousand-pound bodies against the fences, and the air was electric with excitement.

“Just pure adrenaline,” said Lane Edwards, a 16-year-old cowboy from Hickory, NC. Fellow cowboy Ryan Patton, 26, from Rural Retreat, VA, agreed. “It is better than NASCAR,” he said. “There is no feeling like climbing down onto the back of a bull.”

Out in the stands, Jason Hicks, here from Mountain City with his whole family, is literally dancing with excitement, while on the other side of the arena, Micah Lewis, who traveled down from Boone, NC with his mom Cassie, and his grandmother Donna cannot wait to see the cowboys.

However, the man versus beast collision set to begin in a few minutes is more than just exciting; there is a sense of danger in the air as well. Eighteen-year-old Dustin Douglas, hanging off the fence with 17-year-old rider Silas Turnmyer, is riding tonight despite only just having recently recovered from a broken femur sustained last year in Oklahoma. EMT Ian Robertson, here with fellow Johnson County EMS medics Ronnie Hall, Jocelyn Hall, and trainee Jessie Mae Williams, is hoping for a slow night.

“I do not want to do anything if possible,” he said, laughing.

The danger is not stopping Jacob Lyons, 20, from Johnson City. “I almost lost my life doing it,” he said as he got ready for his ride. “I do it simply because I love it.”

“I know there has been some controversy about whether we should stand or kneel for old glory,” the announcer said as the flag-bearer made her way around the arena on horseback. “I say stand up; stand for the land of the free and the home of the brave. So, Mountain City, if you stand with me on a Friday night, let me hear you, loud and proud.”

On their feet, the crowd erupts in cheers, and it is rodeo time. The bulls are ferocious competitors, and while Silas and Lane both have good rides, Ryan goes down hard and comes up bleeding. Jacob goes down with no score as well, but no matter what, as the cowboys clamber over the fence, and pickup man John Stalans and clown Marshall Green corral the bulls, the crowd roars.

After his ride on a monster called Kid Rock, 43-year-old veteran cowboy Dave Birchfield explained why, score or no score, cowboys always come back for more.

“It’s something that you’re born to do,” he said. “It’s in your blood. It ain’t about how much money I can make or how many people I can impress. It’s about how much I can love this sport.”

Riding the bleachers out front, the fans loved the sport right back. Between riders, they sang along to Fat Bottom Girls and lit up the night sky with their cell phones during Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. Then, egged on by the announcer, they tried to drown each other out with cheers for the riders.

So, as long as the Stalans brothers are willing to bring their bulls to Chamber Park, and cowboys like Ryan, Lane, Jacob, Dave, Dustin, and Silas love the sport enough to come and ride them, Johnson County will be here to welcome them back, so, see you in September, when once again, it’s rodeo time in Mountain City.