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updated: 7/18/2012 11:13 AM

Kane County Fair boasts bull riding, rodeo shows

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  • Just Thigpen of Waycross, Ga., competes in the steer wrestling event at the Big Hat Rodeo at last year's Kane County Fair.

      Just Thigpen of Waycross, Ga., competes in the steer wrestling event at the Big Hat Rodeo at last year's Kane County Fair.
    Daily HERAld File Photo/July 2011

  • Bob Sauber, a hometown favorite from St. Charles, hangs on tight as he logs the requisite eight seconds during a previous bull riding competition at the Kane County Fair.

       Bob Sauber, a hometown favorite from St. Charles, hangs on tight as he logs the requisite eight seconds during a previous bull riding competition at the Kane County Fair.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer, July 2002

 
By Hannah Meisel
hmeisel@dailyherald.com

Eight seconds is a period of time not many give thought to -- it's much shorter than your 30-second coffee pour, and longer than your two-second email login.

But for bull riders, the time is regarded with both daring and humility, as it's the time athletes are given to stay atop a bucking bovine, in hopes of displaying more control than their competitors.

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At this week's Kane County Fair, 40 bull riders from across the country will step into the ring for their eight-second chance for victory, and perhaps even a place in bull riding history. At the seventh annual champion bull riding competition Friday, July 20, show founder Bob Sauber of St. Charles expects a record high bull riding score from competing bull Scaredy Cat, breaking the 90-point arena record set at the fair in 2009.

"There are 40 guys coming from all over; it's going to be phenomenal this year," he said. "I think Friday night the record's going to be broken so I'm really excited about it. The bulls and the caliber of cowboys -- it's going to be a special event."

Sauber founded the bull ride at the fair seven years ago in order to keep the tradition of bull riding alive; he said the sport especially has importance in the Midwest. Bull riding was a popular diversion in the 1920s in Chicago, in fact, Sauber said, the first major league rodeo was held at Soldier Field in 1927.

"We've got a great fan base here," he said. "Chicago is a big bull riding town."

And a fan base is one thing Sauber's Scaredy Cat does not lack -- on Facebook, he has garnered more than 5,000 friends, and the account literally will not allow more friends for the black-and-white spotted bull.

Sauber predicts the bull will earn highest marks for his athleticism, nearing 50 points. The remaining 50 points out of 100 will be earned by the bull's rider. The points are determined by a panel of four judges -- two judge the animal and two judge the rider. Judges look for athleticism in the bull, namely a powerful kick and quick turn. In the rider, the judges give points for control and stability, including a stance with chest out and chin tucked. All these things are determined in eight seconds -- if a rider is skilled enough to stay on for that duration.

Sauber, a former bull rider himself, said those eight seconds in the arena are some of the most adrenaline-packed moments possible to experience.

"Eight seconds seems like an eternity, like a lifetime," he said. "Until you've really experienced it -- the adrenaline, the rush of bull riding, the extreme sport it is -- it's really hard to to explain unless you've done it first hand."

Aside from the love of the sport, Sauber said the love of the bulls themselves is a factor that draws him, along with many other bull riders.

"Anybody that knows me sees how I am with my horses and bulls," he said. "My animals come first. It's all about the well-being of the animal. I won't tolerate anybody's abuse of an animal."

Though the relations of riders and animals is docile outside the arena, make no mistake, in the arena the atmosphere is rough and tumble. Dislocated shoulders are common injuries in bull riding, among other maladies that occur in the ring. But Sauber said these risks come along with the love of the sport, and makes for an action-packed show.

"For the price of admission, you're gonna be on the edge of your seat the whole time," he said of the audience. "It's man against beast. It can go either way, it's the whole thrill of the sport."

Admission to the 7 p.m. show is $12 for adults and children 7 and younger are free. Musician Luke Kaufman will perform, and children can take free pony rides beginning at 6 p.m. The first 300 children will receive a free cowboy hat to get in the wild west spirit.

If fairgoers can't get enough of the wild west excitement Friday evening, two rodeo performances Saturday are sure to get their adrenaline going. Big Hat Rodeo, based out of Hebron in McHenry County, will be producing the fair's rodeo show for the 44th year, and Lenora Calzavara Nolan, part-owner, said the level of competitiveness is higher than ever.

In two shows, at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, July 21, Big Hat's top athletes will compete in bareback riding, tie-down roping, shadow bronc riding, steer wrestling, cowgirl barrel racing and bull riding.

Calzavara Nolan said Big Hat is involved in the push to make the Midwest the capital of cowgirl barrel racing, as opposed to Oklahoma or Texas. In the event, the women compete on their horses, making tight turns around three barrels. Places are determined by the thousandth of a second.

"Particularly in Midwest, girls have become so competitive," Calzavara Nolan said. "It's such a fast, fun event to watch."

In addition to the competitions, she said the entertainment for this year is top-notch, including four-time rodeo clown of the year Dusty Myers and popular rodeo announcer Matt McGee.

Tickets for Saturday's shows are $10, including games for children and families during the two-hour shows.

"First-time rodeo-goers will be really surprised by the athletes, the animals, the production and how much fun entire family can have," she said.

The Kane County Fair continues through Sunday, July 22; for details, visit kanecountyfair.com.

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