Sheriff’s Rodeo going virtual: ‘That’s our top priority- to ensure our community’s safe’

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Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry addresses the media Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Sheriff’s Office Jimmy Arrington Memorial Rodeo, along with the Special Needs Rodeo, will be a bit different this year. Held annually at the Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center, the events will be closed to spectators and streamed virtually as COVID-19 numbers continue to spike across the area.  

Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry at a press conference Tuesday morning with rodeo announcer Adam Gibbs confirmed the changes, which Cullman County Commissioner Gary Marchman confirmed to The Tribune Monday.

“He (Gentry) came to us, and he made the decision to go a different route this year due to COVID. I believe he made the right decision as he is putting the health and well-being of the public first,” said Marchman. “I hate this for everyone, but we need to keep people safe. They looked at options to socially distance inside at the rodeo, but it just wasn’t going to work.”

“One of the challenges that we face is we are an indoor rodeo,” Gentry said Tuesday morning.

He said the rodeo is usually “elbow to elbow, standing room only,” and, “You know, as a sheriff, as a law enforcement officer, you want to keep everybody safe. That’s what we do every day. We go out in the community, we patrol, we try to keep everybody safe, so we always have to be thinking about the community and what we do together.”

Gentry said he began working with Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette and Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson months ago to plan for the annual Special Needs Rodeo, which is set to take place virtually Thursday, Dec. 10.

“The Special Needs Rodeo is really the heartbeat of who we are,” said the sheriff, who said the kids will still receive T-Shirts, bandanas and Chick-fil-A gift cards and participate in the event virtually.

“2020 has been a tough year for everybody, and we know that,” Gentry said. “We’re going to make it a virtual rodeo this year. Instead of a couple thousand people being able to attend, we’re gonna have, our goal, is thousands of people that can see our rodeo and enjoy it and be safe doing it. That’s our top priority- to ensure our community’s safe.”

The Special Needs Rodeo will take place Thursday, Dec. 10, while the Jimmy Arrington Memorial Rodeo will be Friday and Saturday, Dec. 11-12. Both events will take place at the Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center but will not be open to spectators in person. Both will be live streamed by local media. Details on times will be released soon.

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Wendy Sack