South Congaree, SC – 03/28/2021 (Paul Kirby) – Thousands of fans packed the stands at the first annual Bull Bash at the South Congaree Equestrian Arena both Friday and Saturday night to see cowboys, bulls, and broncos go head-to-head in a test of wills. When the dust finally settled, more animals left the arena triumphant than men, but no one held their heads low. The mere fact that anyone had the nerve to lower themselves on the back of more than 1,000 pounds of muscle mass and try to stay on for an 8 second ride was a testimony to the sheer bravado of those who took that seat.
Bar W Rodeo Productions, the same outfit that brings you the South Congaree Championship Rodeo each year, decided it was time for a second event in Lexington County this year. They had planned to launch the spring Bull Bash in 2020 but as its date approached, so did the beginning of the pandemic. That forced it to be postponed. When the hour came for the gates to open on Friday night in 2021, literally thousands streamed in proving that the people of the Midlands were ready to see the action again.
A Bull Bash is different than a full rodeo. In a rodeo, there are timed events like barrel racing, team events like calf roping, and of course steer wrestling to name a few. During the show, the excitement builds until the bucking shoots at one end of the arena begins to vibrate and bang as the rank masters of cowboy busting are loaded and prepared. That’s when the bulls take center stage, and most cowboys spend more time flying through the air in the fall than they do on the backs of the animals.
In a Bull Bash, there’s only one type of event, bucking! From start to finish, the show is about a professional animal athlete, the bulls and broncs, trying to get a professional human athlete, the cowboy, off their backs. In a regular rodeo, little ones are often asleep on daddy’s shoulder by the time the bulls take to the arena. In a Bull Bash, those same shoulders are still put into use so even the smallest tots can sit up higher and watch the power of the animals and the skills of the riders.
South Congaree is the perfect place to hold such an event. The covered arena there provides protection from the elements and seems to compound the noise and excitement of the crowd. Rance Woodley and his wife Janice, the promoters of the event, say that the location and facility is a big part of the reason that the South Congaree events have already won awards in the IPRA (International Pro Rodeo Association). “It’s just a great community,” Woodley said recently. “The town works so closely with us and the people are always excited from the day we put up the first signs. It’s just an unbelievable place to hold an event of this nature and we plan to be back year after year.”
Cory Atwell, a bull rider from Moravian Falls, NC, says that he’s been riding in events in South Congaree since it was an SRA sanctioned event years ago put on by the local firefighters. Now an IPRA event, he was in South Congaree again Friday night to win money which equals points. Each dollar is a point, and each point gets the cowboy closer to the National Finals Rodeo at the end of the season.
PHOTO CAPTION: Cory Atwell, Bull Rider
“This is a great rodeo and place to have it,” Atwell said during an interview Friday evening. “I haven’t been able to make it down here the last few years, but I know that every time I come, it just keeps getting better. The people of the area always fill the stands to hoop it. That plus the great hospitality of the area makes it an event we like to try and work into our schedule every year.” Atwell, a full-time carpenter by trade, casually talked with other riders as his wife and small daughter looked on and more and more contestants streamed in the gate.
Saturday night was a special night as it started with a tribute to our first responders. Firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement officers pulled their vehicles into the arena at the beginning of the event as they were honored. It was pointed out that it had been a tough year for these professionals, but they had stood by America’s side throughout a once in a lifetime crisis. As all of them drove out with their lights and sirens on, the crowd was on its feet giving them all a standing ovation.
The stands were packed on Friday but overflowing on Saturday night. That performance was standing room only and there was almost none of that left either. Rance Woodley said more than 2,500 spectators had come through the gate proving their theory correct; South Congaree is a rodeo community!
If you missed the Bull Bash, you won’t have to wait long for another chance to see some rodeo action in South Congaree. The full South Congaree Championship Rodeo is still on track for the last weekend in July and you’ll have an opportunity to get your tickets and go just like everyone else. Once you’ve gained that all important ticket, don’t show up late. You may find you’ll have no place to sit!
You can keep track of the South Congaree Championship Rodeo on their website at southcongareechampionshiprodeo.com or on Facebook.
PHOTO CAPTION: The stand were full Saturday night and overflow had to stand to see the arena.
By: Paul Kirby
VIDEO BY: Larry Sossamon