Starting tonight, the Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo will draw contestants from all over the world, including Brazil and Canada. However, a handful of local contestants plan to enter the arena as well.
Statesboro has its own crop of cowboys and cowgirls who love the rodeo life and spend their weekends in the saddle or on the back of a bull.
While south Georgia might not be the mecca for rodeo, many professional riders hail from the area. This weekend, there will be at least 10 residents from Bulloch and surrounding counties trying their luck against champions from all over the country.
Spencer Mascarello is one. The 20-year-old Bulloch County native looks forward to climbing on the back of 1,800 pounds of snorting power this weekend, he said.
He began riding at age 16 when a friend in Ludowici encouraged him to try. He was injured a few times, including breaking a collarbone, but always climbed back on. He had ridden sheep in kid’s rodeo events as a small child, and although he stopped riding bulls for a while, the desire lay dormant.
Then, he went to a PBR (Professional Bullrider’s Association) rodeo in Savannah and met up with Michael Riggs. “That kind of relit the fire,” he said.
Riggs, 35, from Claxton, was always Mascarello’s mentor. He will be riding in Statesboro this weekend as well.
The bull riding bug bit Rigs when he was 17 ”and I’ve been going ever since,” he said. “The feeling on conquering something a lot of people couldn’t do or wouldn’t do” is why he rides bulls, he said. “It’s that rush.”
It’s the same for Mascarello. When he got back into the sport full force, it was “like my heart told me to go ride. It was more like a ‘have to’ than a ‘want to.’ ”
While most sports are “85 percent physical, 15 percent mental, riding bulls is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, he said. ”The adrenaline rush is major. You’ve got to live it, breathe it and sleep it. If you don’t, you’re wasting it.”
Tyler Wallace, a 23-year-old bull rider from Reidsville, agrees.
“The fun of it is when you get on 1,800 pounds of nothing but muscle that does everything he can to buck you off — nothing can touch you then,” he said. “Some people call me crazy, but it’s just the love of doing it.”
It’s a dangerous sport, and some bull riders turn to other events after they get a little older and endure a few injuries.
Jason Wamba, a Statesboro resident who once hailed from Texas, grew up with rodeo and used to ride bulls.
“I rode bulls and fought bulls for years,” he said. He worked as a cowboy protector to draw the mad bovines away from cowboys who dared climb on their backs. The military brought him to Georgia, where “I met a girl from Bulloch County. She got in the truck, and I haven’t been able to get rid of her ever since." He and his wife Shelley welcomed a baby last year, and now Wamba competes in team and calf roping.
Why rodeo? “It’s just the camaraderie.” The friendships forged on the circuit are lasting, he said.
Riggs said he likely will switch from bull riding to bulldogging, also known as steer wrestling, where he leaps off his running horse onto a steer and wrestles it to the ground. He, too, enjoys the connection with others who love the sport.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” he said. “You meet so many people from all over, but (if you need something) they are there in the blink of an eye.”
Not all local riders will tackle the bulls or calves. A number of young women plan on racing the clock as they compete in barrel racing.
Jessi Zipperer, an 18-year-old Southeast Bulloch High School senior, is going to “turn and burn” tonight with her palomino Quarter Horse She Be Skipping, aka Cowgirl.
“I began barrel racing when I was about five, on my old paint mare,” she said. “I was introduced (to the sport) by a friend, and I have been competing ever since.”
Zipperer competes in five-event shows at Georgia Wranglers Club in Pembroke. “In 2010-2011 year I was “top junior,” which means you won over all the other juniors in that class.
“I love rodeos because it's a different environment, and they have this intense feeling,” she said. “The crowds are always big, and may seem a bit intimidating, but once I enter that arena it just me and my horse.”
Local riders competing this weekend in Statesboro also include Sarah Dewitt of Savannah; Will Lewis, Wilbur Brown, Tiffany McGhin, Courtney Hodges and Chelsea Redding of Statesboro; and Bayne Sommers of Newington.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.