Thousands enjoy Cracker Day Rodeo at Sheriff’s Posse Arena
For more than a half-century, the Lee County Sheriff’s Posse Arena has celebrated the heritage of the Florida ranchers who have worked the fields and raised the cattle of interior Florida by hosting the Cracker Day Rodeo.
This past weekend was no exception as thousands came for the 56th annual event for three days of competition that serves as the big fundraiser for the arena, a non-profit organization which was founded in 1960 and has survived as an all-volunteer group that, despite its name, gets no financial support from any government entity.
Brent Ray, rodeo organizer, said the main idea of the event is to support the arena and all that it does for children in the area.
“It’s the only privately owned arena that you can join for $50 a year and ride your horse at anytime,” Ray said. “We do this for the kids in the community to provide a safe place for them to ride. The Posse is about carrying on a tradition and making it available for the kids to experience.”
Unlike last year, when there were two weekends of competition, this year saw a return to the traditional full weekend that included two performances on Friday night and Saturday afternoon and the youth rodeo that started at noon Sunday and went well into the night.
The fun started Friday with the crowning of the Cracker Day Rodeo Queen, Courtney Williams, 16, who made her second time running the charm.
“I was really happy to win. I ran last year but didn’t win, so I worked really hard at it,” Williams said. “I think it’s great for people and families to come together.”
Sandwiching the Saturday performance was slack, where the competitors not in the performance compete. Barrel racers and pole benders ran before the show and ropers competed after.
Saturday’s performance kicked off with the Special Equestrians and the Posse Arena drill teams before a full day of events that included two sections of bull riding at the beginning and end of each show.
In between there were events you wouldn’t ordinarily see at a traditional rodeo, such as the exciting buddy puck-up and pole banding to go along with mutton-busting, team roping and others.
The Lee County Junior Posse also raised funds selling raffle tickets for a myriad of prizes, $4 strawberry shortcake, and from other concessions. There were also vendors who sold western attire and other items.
Al Currie, who has been the announcer of the event the past 18 years, said the whole idea is to celebrate the heritage of the Florida cowboy and to hand it down to the children to keep what some consider a dying lifestyle going.
“Interior Florida has a lot of native cowboys and cowgirls who have raised cattle here since the early 1600s. Over the years, the cattle industry has evolved,” Currie said. “Now, we’re getting a lot of people from outside the state getting involved and we welcome that. It’s not dying, but it’s getting overwhelmed by the Northerners. They prefer to be by the beach or Disney, so it will be a long time before they wipe out the cracker heritage.”