WALLA WALLA - Crowds for this year's Riding Against Child Abuse Walla Walla Community College Rodeo could end up being larger than any in the last three decades.
On Saturday morning, Dick Cook of the Walla Walla Council for Prevention of Child Abuse said local distributors like Super One Foods were running out of tickets.
"It's a great problem to have. We are selling out. We never had this problem before," Cook said.
There are four reasons Cook said the rodeo has grown since the Walla Walla Exchange Club and the Council for Prevention of Child Abuse joined forces with Walla Walla Community College to operate what is now a 42-year-old rodeo.
First and foremost is the fight against child abuse, Cook said, pointing out that 29 years ago it was determined that if the rodeo was ever going to turn a profit, it needed to be associated with a community cause.
Since then the rodeo has earned more than $300,000 in profit.
"The money is important, but even more important is the awareness," Cook said, adding that half the profit goes to fund the college's rodeo program and the other half to fight child abuse.
Six years ago the rodeo program also began giving demonstrations at local schools, teaching kids about rodeo competition and techniques.
Cook feels fairly certain those school programs are starting to help drive up attendance numbers.
"(At Friday's performance) I saw a lot of high school-aged kids that I know were sitting in those elementary school bleachers five years ago," Cook said.
Another reason the rodeo keeps drawing larger numbers is all the clowning around, especially the antics of rodeo clown JJ Harrison.
"The kids, they really like him. He draws a lot of people here," Cook said.
Finally, there is the artwork of bullfighter Rowdy Barry, a new element to the rodeo.
Once a bull rider, Rowdy is best known in the rodeo world as a seasoned bullfighter who keeps bulls away from thrown riders. But he is also known in the art world as a renowned Western art painter and sculptor.
For the first time this year, the rodeo is featuring the work of an artist on its program and posters.
Cook said Barry not only donated use of his original pastel "Another Good Day," but he also donated signed copies of the work for additional fundraising.
By Saturday, about 15 orders for the print had been taken, which should rope in about $1,500 to fight child abuse, Cook said.
There should be plenty of tickets left for the fourth and final performance of the Walla Walla Community College rodeo today.
Cook pointed out that Sunday performances are usually the least attended. But it is also when the best riders can be seen competing in the finals.
Cost for the rodeo is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, free for children 5 and under; a family pass for two adults and up to four children is $20.
The rodeo starts today at noon at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds.