ATLANTIC CITY - A 17-year-old aspiring rodeo cowboy made the trip from Washington, D.C., to Boardwalk Hall on Saturday to learn about the sport. A 12-year-old girl from Mays Landing was there because it seemed like "a fun thing to do for the day."
Forty-four people ranging from age 8 to mid-40s attended the Championship Rodeo Camp, a free clinic run by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in conjunction with this weekend's Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo.
There was a classroom session with speakers including Woodstown, Salem County, resident Butch Kirby, a former PRCA bull-riding champion and current PRCA judge.
On the Boardwalk Hall floor, the campers learned how to use rodeo equipment, and they took turns riding a mechanical bucking machine that moved around the floor on wheels like a real rodeo animal.
"Even if one kid learns something and has a great time and goes on to pursue rodeo, it's been a success," said PRCA Industry Outreach manager Julie Jutten, who ran the camp. "And also, for the kids that come here and have a good time but maybe don't want to do rodeo, they've had a good time so they're going to buy tickets to the rodeo, they're going to watch it on TV, go to our website."
Jutten started running the camps three years ago, but this was the first time one has been held east of the Mississippi River.
Russell Davis, 17, made the trip from Washington, D.C., with his mother, Valerie. Davis wants to be a tie-down roper and recently started working with a trainer. The camp focused on roughstock events (bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding), but Davis said he benefited from the general advice from Kirby and other instructors.
"I paid attention when they said set your goals high, higher than you would normally set them," Davis said.
The trip was productive for Davis in other ways, too.
Cory Romriell, president of the New York High School Rodeo Association, brought two of his students to the camp. But Romriell was most excited to meet Davis and offer advice and people to contact.
"The highlight is to educate these kids," said Romriell, a 44-year-old from Broadalbin, N.Y., who competed in team roping Saturday night. "(Davis) is really in an area that doesn't have rodeo. And he's very interested. The PRCA and high school rodeo and all types of rodeo are getting out to the world. And that's a good thing that kids like this are getting interested."
One of Romriell's students was Christopher Kenyon, 15, of Galway, N.Y. Kenyon has been riding bulls for about a year and wants to become a professional. He got to learn from one of his heroes, PRCA bull rider Heith DeMoss.
"I wanted to see what they can offer and see what I'm doing wrong and improve on it," Kenyon said.
DeMoss, a 26-year-old from Crowville, La., said he enjoyed the variety of people he instructed. He said some of his favorite campers were "a bunch of giggling girls."
"I had a darn good time with them all," DeMoss said. "They all tried and they were all apt to go at whatever we told them to do."
One of those girls, 12-year-old Rachel Skinner of Mays Landing, said she doesn't plan on becoming a rodeo competitor but had fun at the camp.
"I got volunteered for everything first," she said with a laugh.
Brooklyn Walker, 18, of Long Island, N.Y., also was there just for fun. Walker drove up from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., to go to the rodeo Friday night with her friend, Kaitlain Parker, also of Long Island, who was celebrating her 18th birthday. They stuck around for the camp Saturday.
"All the demonstrations and actually getting to participate on the mechanical (bulls and horses) was great," Walker said.
Jutten, the camp's organizer, said several other campers were there just for fun. One woman in her 40s told Jutten she had gone to the rodeo for the first time here last year and just wanted to learn more about what she had seen.
One of the youngest campers, meanwhile, was all business. Benjamin Pavlov, 8, of Chesterfield, Burlington County, said he wants to be a rodeo cowboy. His favorite part of the camp was riding the mechanical bull.
"It was like riding a horse, but it was faster and funner," he said.
Benjamin's 11-year-old brother, Luke, and 9-year-old sister, Abigail, also participated. Their mother, Jen Pavlov, said she was surprised that they actually rode the mechanical bull.
Jen Pavlov said she was "a little bit" nervous, but her fears subsided quickly.
"They're pretty safe here," she said. "They really watch over the kids."
The instructors were happy to help everyone, from the 8-year-olds to the more serious older campers.
"I think having these kind of things right here where you can educate people about what's happening and let them get a little piece of it is darn sure good for the sport," DeMoss said.
Kenyon, the 15-year-old bull rider from New York, said that was the most important thing.
"I've learned (here) that no matter where you are, there are always people willing to help you," he said.
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