The Children's Rodeo is turning 25.
Every Wednesday of Round-Up week, Round-Up and the Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District invite special needs children to take center stage and participate in rodeo trials of their own.
"This is their opportunity to have that moment and it's neat to be a part of it,"?said Casey White, UMESD communications coordinator.
Director Karen Parker and White said for many of the kids who participate, this is one of the few times they get to show off and be in the spotlight. In addition to the more than 40 kids who participate each year, 1,000 area students fill up the stands to cheer them on.
Some kids and grown-ups will have a chance to remember their participation this year. The Children's Rodeo has called out to all alumni, inviting them back for the event's silver anniversary. The alumni will get to ride on the event's float, which will feature a giant birthday cake. They also will be honored as special guests at the rodeo Wednesday.
Parker and White said hundreds of kids probably participated in the rodeo over the years. The oldest "kids" are likely in their 30s now.
The idea for the Children's Rodeo, originally called the Exceptional Rodeo, came from Larry Rew, a former Round-Up president who saw a similar event at the Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. Rew, who died earlier this year at the age of 93, was instrumental in starting the Children's Rodeo, Parker and White said.
Rew worked with Ruth Dismuke Blakely, who coordinated the event in Cheyenne. Over the years, Dismuke Blakely handed over the reins to UMESD and the Round-Up to run the yearly event.
Parker began helping out 21 years ago.
When the rodeo started, probably 20 kids participated, Parker said.
The events run the gamut of mock-rodeo competitions. Kids rope pretend steer heads, untie a ribbon from a goat's tail, take a buggy ride, barrel race on a stick pony, ride a horse and ride a hand-rocked mechanical bull.
A grant from the Wildhorse Foundation has made things a little easier for the 80 volunteers who help with the event. For one thing, it paid for modifications to the mechanical bull, making it simpler to gently rock and buck it.
The grant also paid for a special belt buckle that all the participating kids will receive to commemorate the 25-year anniversary. The buckle, made by a Colorado company, features a cowboy riding a bucking bull and the word "Rodeo" in big letters across the top. Kids usually get shirts, hats, ropes and trophies for participating, but this year the belt buckle will be extra.
Even though she's been doing this for more than 20 years, Parker said it's worth all the work every time.
"It's heartwarming every year. It's my love. This is my excitement - especially when I see kids come in and we make a difference for one hour," she said. "That, to me, is worth all the hours I put into it."