Submitted by Eileen Phillips, August 1, 2014
How many of us have realized our dreams? How many of us would like to turn back the clock so that we’d have just one shot at trying something that we now feel we are too old to attempt?
When the Tulsa RV Ranch Arena Manager Jim Stevens first decided he wanted to create and produce Muttin Bustin’ and Calf Riding events for kids ages 3-10, he knew that he wanted it to be unique. Big. Like no other. He knew he wanted to create an opportunity for kids with dreams of becoming a cowboy or cowgirl in the rodeo arena to fulfill them. With the help of Big Horn Rodeo’s Casie Nolen, I dove into the task of putting Jim’s concept on paper. He wanted the name to mean something. He wanted the kids to feel like they are a part of something big – as in grown up; not as in “Captain Kangaroo” type of event. Thus the name Li’l Rough Riders Association, or LRRA was born. Jim was passionate; he wanted this to be all about the kids. He wanted the 2014 LRRA season to culminate in a big way, with the World Series of Muttin Bustin’ and Calf Riding; including scholarships, prize money, and awards.
That was back in April of 2014. By May 16, the Tulsa RV Ranch hosted, and the LRRA produced, the very first Li’l Rough Riders Association event. That night, there was a lot of excited kids back behind the chutes. Nerves were also high, and there were a lot of young toddlers who didn’t want to cross that big arena all by themselves when introduced at the beginning of the show. You see, Jim Stevens had a vision: one where the letters “LRRA” were lit up in the middle of the arena; where the kids each were introduced separately and highlighted like little stars; patterning the LRRA Production after any Professional Bull Rider (PBR) event. Jim wanted these kids to feel that their dreams of someday riding professionally could actually be achieved; and if they decided in the end not to pursue that route, at least they would be able to look back and say that they tried it.
Now skip forward to the July 25 LRRA Qualifier event. Casie Nolen and myself were high atop the arena, looking down on 35 bright, young kids. We started the introductions. And to my delight, I saw a whole different group. These little people were NOTHING like the toddlers on May 16. They ran out into the big, empty arena without the assistance of their parents, waving to the crowd. They smiled, they cheered for the next, and the next kid. They posed for their pictures – as a close-knit group. I had witnessed a three-month transformation. These kids were ready for their chance to compete. Each rode his or her sheep or calves; some getting bucked off, some catapulting into the soft dirt. Back on May 16, these kids required a parent to hold their little hands and to kiss their cheeks. But on July 25, I watched in amazement as each Li’l Rough Rider rode, bucked off, picked themselves up, brushed off their pants, and strolled back with pride; all on their own to the Out Gate.
It’s a tough world out there, and we all know it. I myself am the parent of two grown kids, and I made a concerted effort to not coddle them too much when they were young. I certainly didn’t want them to get hurt; but on the other hand, I didn’t want to raise kids who knew nothing of true determination and dedication. Therefore, I did allow my children to compete, at a very young age in the rodeo arena. I can honestly say that both my kids are tough, gritty, and have a knowledge of what real dedication is. We, my husband and myself, were able to provide access for them to that life because we were both descendants of generational rodeo athletes. However, there are a lot of kids out there without that connection, or opportunity, and that was the void that Jim Stevens has wanted to fill with the Li’l Rough Riders Association.
The LRRA is unique in other ways too. Each performance is highlighted with two clowns, Cory Dodge, age 9, and Kaleb Robison, age 10. Don’t let their age deceive you; for they have both grown up in the rodeo arena and are experienced Li’l Rough Rider Protectors. At the end of each LRRA Qualifier hosted at the Tulsa RV Ranch, they get to present the buckles to the winners of the Muttin Bustin’ and both Calf Riding Divisions.
Another element unique to the LRRA is that on October 17 & 18, the LRRA Semi-Finals and World Series Championships will be held in conjunction with the 2014 World Senior Professional Bull Riders Finals. Again, Jim Stevens had a vision: one in which the older and experienced competitors would be there to support and encourage the youngest in the world of rodeo. What an opportunity for these kids to grow and develop a sense of respect for their elders!
Respect is also key to the LRRA; as the kids play an intricate role in the display of our nation’s flag during LRRA performances and the National Anthem and opening prayer are always part of LRRA Opening Ceremonies.
The Li’l Rough Riders Association requires a lot of dedication from not only these kids; but also from their parents, the production staff, etc. “Hats Off” to the Nolen family (Nick and Casie Nolen), who have dedicated themselves to producing each and every event for pennies, especially to Corey Dodge and Kaleb Robison who run their hearts out, protecting the Li’l Rough Riders; also to Teresa Grist of T Grist Photography for catching all of the special moments in these kids’ lives; and a big “Hats Off” to these kids who have dedicated themselves to this journey, transforming into mature young men and women!
The rest of the 2014 LRRA season includes events on August 15 at the Tulsa RV Arena; August 15 & 16 in Bristow, OK; September 12 at the Tulsa RV Arena; September 12 & 13 in Atoka; September 26 at the Tulsa RV Arena; September 27 at the Big Horn Series Finals at the Tulsa RV Arena; and in conjunction with the World Senior Pro Bull Riding Finals on October 17 & 18 at the Tulsa RV Arena. Go to: muttinbustin.com for association information or click on: “Official” LRRA Video on You Tube to view the LRRA Three-Month Transformation!