ATLANTIC CITY - Some came out to root for their favorite cowboy. Others wanted to see the animals. Another group was at Boardwalk Hall to protest it all.
For all those reasons, the opening night of the second annual Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo drew thousands of people to Boardwalk Hall on Friday. Announced attendance was 3,622.
Howard and Rachel Ginsberg of Atlantic City brought their two young daughters to the rodeo. Dallas, 6, and Savannah, 3, wore their pink cowgirl hats and learned how to lasso a (fake) bull.
A completely different world awaited the Ginsberg family as they walked into Boardwalk Hall. They were immediately greeted with booths selling hats, jewelry and all the amenities to outfit any cowboy.
"It's a whole different culture. It's like night and day," Howard, 33, said. "You get to see all the livestock, which is better than all the seagulls."
But cowboys aren't that far away from Atlantic City. While many of the riders were from places such as Texas, Oklahoma and Utah, there were some local competitors.
Pat Jewell has been competing in rodeos for many years. He didn't participate in last year's Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo because he needed a better partner for the team roping competition.
This year, he partnered with Steven Wojciechowski from Elmer (Salem County) and the two practiced roping a steer in Jewell's backyard - in Mays Landing.
"I have a couple of acres of land and a bunch of horses," said Jewell, 61, who owns Easy Living, a company that designs and builds decks and railings. "I live at the end of a dead-end street. No one sees what's going on."
Jewell and Wojciechowski were one of the four teams that completed the team roping competition. Eight others tried but didn't rope their steer. Jewell and Wojciechowski were hit with a 10-second penalty for leaving the gate too early. Then, when they thought they had their steer roped, the judges felt it wasn't stretched out enough.
So Jewell and Wojciechowski wasted precious seconds to get the steer stretched to the judges' liking. They finished in 32.9 seconds, which essentially takes them out of the competition. The top team Friday of Joshua Torres (Ocala, Fla.) and Jonathan Torres (Bell City, La.) finished in 7.1 seconds.
Buena Vista Township's Guy Collins didn't score in the event.
"I thought we stretched the steer enough," said Jewell, who rode his horse Gunsmoke. "But it's the judge's call to make. I thought we made a good run."
Jewell, who received loud applause when he was announced, likes having rodeos so close to home. He hits Cowtown in Salem County when he can and will go to a rodeo in Berlin, Camden County, on May 12.
But to kick off the rodeo season, Jewell enjoyed the 40-minute trip at Atlantic City.
"This is a nice venue," he said. "They put on a good show. The competition is real good. There's a lot of money in this."
However, not everyone enjoyed the rodeo.
Before the start of Friday's competition, a group of about a dozen protesters stood on the Boardwalk outside the venue voicing their concerns about animal cruelty.
"Just say no to the rodeo," one woman said into a megaphone.
The South Jersey Animal Advocates protested for a second year in a row in an attempt to get those going to the rodeo to change their minds.
"Somebody has to be the voice to the voiceless," Galloway Township resident Richard Grzywinski said. "Someone has to speak for the animals."
Protesters handed out flyers and told those entering the box office that rodeos are cruel to animals.
Galloway Township resident Ronda Cluff, 44, said she doesn't think they are going to change people's minds as they are walking in, but she wants people to think about what they are seeing. She wants to start a conversation.
"I think part of the problem is the romanticizing of it," Cluff said. "The whole cowboy culture is part of it."
The group intends to be there all weekend and plans to come back in three weeks when a circus will be at Boardwalk Hall. They will protest the animal use in the "Barnum Bash."
Atlantic City's Paul Williams, 40, said he wishes the rodeo never came to his hometown. He views it as a desperate attempt by city officials to bring revenue into the city.
"This wouldn't be happening if Atlantic City was booming," Williams said. "This is a blot on Atlantic City."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj: