CCSO hosts annual favorite, special needs rodeo

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Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry races students on stick ponies at the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office special needs rodeo on Dec. 7, a day ahead of the 2023 Jimmy Arrington Memorial Rodeo. (Martha Needham)

VINEMONT, Ala. – The sun shone bright and clear on Thursday morning, Dec. 7, as bus after bus rolled into the Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center. Brakes hissed as they let out their passengers; students from every reach of the county were greeted by Cullman County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) deputies donning cowboy hats. Jumping and squealing with excitement, students filed into the center to watch budding rodeo stars rope and ride at the special needs mini rodeo. The mini rodeo kicks off the weekend for the CCSO’s 2023 Jimmy Arrington Memorial Rodeo.

Sheriff Matt Gentry said that while, of course, the rodeo is something that his office looks forward to every year, special needs day is the pinnacle of the weekend for everyone involved. He touched on the collaborative effort between the sponsors, schools, several local leaders and the sheriff’s office as the key to the success of the event.

“Nothing compares to the sheer happiness on the kids’ faces as they get to experience a real rodeo,” smiled Gentry. “It truly is the highlight of the year. I am so honored to be able to continue this year after year and grateful for the school systems for working with us to make it happen.”

Cullman County Commissioner Corey Freeman spoke on behalf of the entire Cullman County Commission and echoed Gentry’s sentiments, saying the event is one of the highlights of the year for them also, getting to watch the community come together to support students who may need an extra boost.

“It brings everyone together, from the commission, local law enforcement from all around and the schools. It’s amazing to see!” he grinned.

It’s not just the adults who look forward to the action of the morning. Cassie Briggs, special education teacher of Vinemont Elementary School, said the rodeo isn’t just a typical field trip for her class. After the demonstrations, students get to get down and dirty in the arena, learning to lasso and even race the sheriff on foot. She said that kind of hands-on action provides an opportunity to not only get out of the classroom for the morning, but also get familiar with the members of the CCSO.

“They count down to it every year, and we hear about it until the end of the year after it’s over!” laughed Briggs. “We love to see their faces and the excitement they have watching everything going on; it gives these kids something to look forward to.”

Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette said that while the special needs rodeo is just generally a good time for the kids, the bigger rodeo helps ensure success of their classrooms because the CCSO donates a percentage of proceeds from the Jimmy Arrington Memorial Rodeo to special needs classrooms around the county.

“Not only is this day special, but some of the proceeds from the rodeo this weekend will go back to every special needs classroom in the county. It really helps our special needs kids, so we’re just tickled to death!” grinned Barnette.

The 2023 Jimmy Arrington Memorial Rodeo kicked off Friday, Dec. 8. It will continue Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center. Gates open at 5 p.m.; kids’ scramble at 7 p.m.; rodeo starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are sold at the door – cash only – adult $10, child/student $8, children 6 and younger free. There is an ATM on-site because organizers are unable to process credit/debit cards at the venue.

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