Rodeo aims to rein in abuse

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Combine a serious issue and a fun community event to raise awareness about it, and in Walla Walla you get a top collegiate rodeo.

"Riding Against Child Abuse" remains the theme of the 43rd annual Walla Walla Community College Rodeo March 9-11 at the Walla Walla Fairgrounds.

"Without the cause we'd have another rodeo but we wouldn't draw the big crowds," said Dick Cook, an organizer of the rodeo.

"The cause is the draw, plus JJ Harrison the clown," he added, referring to the Walla Walla man whose barrel antics and rapport have made him a widely popular professional rodeo clown in the Pacific Northwest.

The rodeo draws about 200 competitors from 12 regional colleges, including WWCC, who perform before a total audience of about 6,000 people over the three days.

Proceeds are split between the Walla Walla Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and WWCC's rodeo program.

As wholesome as the event is, it sheds light on a much darker subject: child abuse and neglect.

"Each month, in Walla Walla County, approximately 75 cases of child abuse are reported," said Cook, who is president of the abuse prevention council.

"At this time last year the monthly count was 70 reported cases. Local and national data is not showing any significant decrease in child abuse."

The rodeo and activities outside the action in the arena serves to get people - from adults to children - talking about child abuse.

A coloring contest gets the message out to the schools, with volunteers bringing 6,500 coloring posters to students at 20 elementary schools and stressing that abuse is never the fault of a child.

For adult awareness, one of the things the council provides is a baby bag for new parents at the hospital. The bag is full of educational and resource materials.

Included is information on the so-called "period of purple crying," a time most babies go through sometime between 2 weeks to 4 months old, according to www.purplecrying.info. The frequent crying, which is normal, can nevertheless frustrate parents tremendously and lead to injuries to the child, such as shaken baby syndrome.

Over the past several years the Council also has made donations to Walla Walla Early Learning, Walla Walla Children's Forum, Friends of Children of Walla Walla and the HomeTeam.

The council, WWCC and a third partner over the past 30 years, Exchange Club of Walla Walla, have used the rodeo to raise more than $300,000 for local child abuse prevention activities and college rodeo.

Profits from the rodeo weekend amount to about 50 percent of the council's annual budget, according to Cook. Last year the rodeo took in $43,532, and after $26,859 in expenses split a profit of $16,673 between the council and WWCC's rodeo program, according to Cook. WWCC's share is used primarily for scholarships.

In addition to the rodeo, among other family entertainment is a Little Kid's Rodeo. The annual Cowboy Breakfast on Saturday also is a big favorite, with food prepared by the WWCC Culinary Arts Department.

In addition to a good crowd, the fight against child abuse also draws volunteers from many area businesses and organizations.

"We couldn't do this without the tremendous help from the volunteers and the tremendous community support especially from businesses," Cook said. "In this economy it's harder to be asking for money but we are still getting a really good response."

If you or a loved one needs help call the Child Abuse and Neglect hotline at 509-524-4902, in Walla Walla or Columbia counties, 24 hours a day.

If You Go:

Friday and Saturday evening rodeo performances start at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday afternoon performances start at 1:30 p.m. and noon, respectively. There is a free Friday morning slack at 9 a.m. Saturday morning the Cowboy Breakfast runs 8-11 a.m., the free Little Kid's Rodeo starts at 9:30 a.m.

Advance rodeo tickets are $7 adults, $4 children under 12/seniors older than 64. One performance family tickets are $18.

Tickets are on sale in Walla Walla at Sterling Savings Bank, L&G Ranch Supply, the New York Store, Super One Foods, Walla Walla Harvest Foods and the WWCC Bookstore. In Milton-Freewater: Bordertown Feed & Supply and Saager Shoe Shop.

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