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MARSHALL: Oh chute!

Published 6/10/2012 in Beef Empire Days-Sports

The 26th edition of the Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo concluded Saturday night at the Finney County Fairgrounds Arena.

Perhaps the biggest crowd in several years settled into the grandstands to watch professional cowboys and cowgirls compete in a variety of events as part of the annual event, one of the most important sporting events that comes to Garden City each year.

For the 10th consecutive year, the rodeo stock (i.e., bulls and saddle bronc and bareback horses) was brought to town by the renowned Korkow Rodeos of Pierre, S.D.

I first met the Korkow family, father Jim and son T.J., in June of 2009.

For some reason, which can now be explained, I found a connection with them unlike few I had experienced in nearly 15 years of sports writing.

You see, Jim and T.J. are salt of the earth folks.

They are fun, they are knowledgeable and they are considerate of others.

They've kind of taken me under their wing and taught me about the sport, and lifestyle, of rodeo people.

Most of a sports reporter's world revolves around those school sports that you see during any given calendar year — football, volleyball, cross country, basketball, wrestling and all the spring sports, too.

Rodeos don't come to town all that often. Only the early March Garden City Community College rodeo provides any higher level of competitors, and those are collegiate amateurs. This rodeo brings some of the top-ranked professional rodeo folks to town, and boy do they know how to perform.

For the second time in four years, the Korkows were gracious enough to allow me a behind-the-scenes look at a live rodeo.

Imagine being able to stand next to the cowboys who will be atop those mean-looking bulls who don't like anybody riding them. Imagine being within hands-reach of those beautiful horses who love to buck.

The chutes at the Fairgrounds Arena are a bit different than many other rodeo arenas, according to T.J. The gates on the chutes open to the inside on both left and right sides, thus providing his animals an opportunity to make spectacular moves coming out into the arena.

On Thursday's first night performance, I was covering the rodeo from the northeast side of the arena, just beyond the outer fences that keep the bulls and horses in holding for their upcoming rides or to put them at the far side after they've completed their evening's task. That night, one of the Korkow bulls decided he didn't like being cooped up. He somehow, amazingly, jumped over a 6-foot section of an inside pen and got to the last barrier before finding freedom. He was one barrier away from me and a few other folks, and it certainly was unsettling. But T.J.'s able workers, who have a vast number of years in working rodeo stock, got the bull back to his designated area within a couple of minutes.

Friday night, it was compelling to watch the cowboys prepare both physically (stretching exercises) and mentally (sometimes in prayer) before their rides. It's a dangerous sport, and everybody back there takes it seriously. The Korkow workers handle a multitude of duties, from moving stock to and fro, from one set of pens to another before they are brought into the chute area for their rides. In a couple of cases, a bull or horse simply doesn't want to get into the chute. That's where the workers come in. They know what to do, and they go do it.

One of the BED Rodeo volunteers had a couple of close calls at the exit gate when bulls decided to make that mad dash into the alley. He had to grab hold of the top of a gate and pull himself up and over, ending up on the ground but safe and secure from the bull.

Nearly two hours after the start of the evening's performance, it all came to an end with the last bull being ridden. The Korkows and their crew concluded their night's work by feeding their stock and giving them fresh water.

"I've got people who have been doing this for several years," Jim Korkow said. "Everybody's got a job to do, and they just know what has to happen in chronological order it needs to be, and it just gets done."

Four rodeos with the Korkows has provided me a vast understanding of what it takes to produce a world-class event. I managed to keep myself in safe places this time around, never coming close to getting kicked as I did in 2009. I'm better acclimated to the rodeo than I was then. But I've still got a lot to learn. I'm not sure I'd get hired to work back behind the chutes.

But I can't wait until next year.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at bmarshall@gctelegram.com.

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