Cowboy hats, big belt buckles and skin-tight jeans were the popular attire at the Show Me Center Friday night as bucking broncos and raging bulls made the arena their playground on the opening night of the 17th annual Show Me Center Rodeo.
The evening started with a big surprise for one of the audience members. Helen Tilley, mother of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association judge Kenny Heman, was paid a surprise visit by her son, who gave her a bouquet of flowers in his first trip to her hometown of Cape Girardeau in over 10 years.
"I haven't been to see her at home in so long," said Heman, who lives in Lone Grove, Okla. "I just wanted to surprise her."
From the expression on Tilley's face, it worked.
She's been following her son's career since 1976, when he made the national high school rodeo finals.
"He's always been a cowboy," she said.
The flowers were followed by a tribute to America's armed forces, with the flags of each branch of the service paraded around the arena as veterans were asked to stand when their branch was recognized.
Throughout the night, cowboys like Heman tried to tame the great beasts associated with the American West, and rodeo clowns put it on thick for the crowd. A clown named Willie drew laughs when he tried to compete against the bareback riders by straddling a toy bronco.
Six-year-old Graci Ward of Advance, Mo., especially liked the clowns. "They're silly," Graci said.
Graci sat only a few rows back from the arena floor with parents Conrad and Marsha Ward. As broncos rode by, kicking up dirt, Marsha Ward hoped to stay out of harm's way.
"We haven't been hit yet, but I'm afraid of that," she said.
The Wards donned jeans for the rodeo, but their cowboy connection stopped there.
Pat Collier of Dexter, Mo., stood in sharp contrast, with his black cowboy hat and a long-sleeved, button-down flannel shirt tucked into tight horse-riding jeans. He's a steer wrestler who was in 50 rodeos last year, he said, but this time he was bringing 5 1/2-month-old son William to see the spectacle.
He hopes William will grow up to be a cowboy. "He enjoys it pretty good, and he's a big boy," Collier said.
About 1,300 people attended the event Friday, Show Me Center head Brad Gentry said. The rodeo continues today and Sunday.
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