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Lea County Special Rodeo celebrates 30th year

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Lea County Special Rodeo celebrates 30 years of involving special needs children in the fair and rodeo fun.

In addition to a booth in the Zia Building at the Lea County Fairgrounds, the organization scheduled three fair and rodeo events for the kids, according to Shawnna Richards, president of the organization.

Wright’s Amusements will open the carnival Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, providing a private treat for special needs children at no charge.

“That enables us to get all of our kids on. I have autistic kids who don’t do well in crowds or lines. We can kind of isolate them,” Richards said. “They come out, ride rides and have a good time.”

She said in addition donating rides and giving of their time, the carnival also provides lunch for the kids and their families. Some of the children will be allowed to ride the LCSR Rodeo organization’s float in the fair and rodeo parade on Wednesday. Richards lauded the Cowboy Junction Youth Group for decorating the organization’s float.

Then, on Saturday, Aug. 12, the actual Special Rodeo starts at 4:30 p.m. with Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association cowboys and volunteers spending time with the children in the Jake McClure Arena. The kids will get a chance to ride horses, throw a rope and perform other rodeo activities like real cowboys and cowgirls. “Last year at the carnival, there were 33 kids. The parade float was at max capacity, standing room only, 16. At our Special Rodeo, we had 31,” Richards said, but the group always prepares for 50, just in case.

The PRCA initiated that organization’s “Exceptional Rodeo” at the 1983 Scottsdale, Ariz. Rodeo. Lovington resident Sheryl Berry founded the Lea County version in 1987 so her Down syndrome daughter could enjoy the rodeo. It was the first in New Mexico, and the PRCA continues its version around the country.

Richards said the local organization plans to honor Berry at this year’s event for being the founder, whether called “Exceptional Rodeo” or “Special Rodeo.”

“The mission has always been the same,” she said. “Our mission is to reach special needs kids in Lea County so they can be involved in the Lea County Fair and Rodeo.”

Diane Garcia, a special education teacher’s aide at Coronado Elementary School in Hobbs and secretary of the Lea County Special Rodeo board of directors, said she’s excited about being involved in the organization’s 30th year.

“It’s awesome. I love these kids. I think I have a different outlook on these kids. I don’t see them as disabled or different,” she said. “I totally get these kids.”

Along with Garcia, Eva McCart, a paraprofessional in Autism with Hobbs Municipal Schools, are two special education experts who serve on the non-profit’s 13-member board.

“Those board members are super-valuable because they know these kids,” she said. They know their disabilities, what works and what doesn’t. That’s helpful for us that don’t have that training or background.”

A new board member, she said, is Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice.

“David Gallegos got us in touch with Marathon Oil and they have purchased and donated 50 backpacks, monogrammed with the logo for Marathon Oil as well as our logo and put ‘Within Every Heart Lies a Dream’ on every backpack,” she said. “We as an organization have purchased school supplies and we’re going to put them in these backpacks.”

The group also is a literacy partner with Scholastic.

“Last year, we put two easy reader books in the hands of every one of our kids,” Richards said. “The majority were in English, but we have some Spanish speakers and gave them books in Spanish.”

The non-profit organization is funded solely on community support, she said. Scholarship donations were received from such businesses as Lea Regional Medical Center, Nor-Lea Hospital District, TDS Communications, Allstate Insurance and the Fresenius Kidney Care Dialysis Center.

“It really is a community effort,” Richards said, adding there are many ways many other, individuals and businesses, are contributing.

“For the Special Rodeo, we take them age 3 to 16. That’s when they begin receiving special education services through the public school system, at age 3, so that’s when we can take them,” she said. “They must have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) diagnosis. That’s how they qualify for the program.”

Garcia pointed out every child has his or her own issues that the organization recognizes and deals with.

“Each kid has a very specific IEP,” she said.

Richards emphasized the special carnival on Saturday is not open to the public.

“It is just for our kids,” she said.

The Special Rodeo children are asked to get on the float at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Avenue F and 11th Street in Lovington, a half-hour before the fair and rodeo parade begins.

“Participants only can ride because I don’t have any more room (on the float),” Richards said. “The parade starts at 4 p.m. and the kids are picked up by their parents at Bob’s Supermarket. So we have them about 45 minutes.”

She said they are sticking with the fair and rodeo theme this year of “Stirrup Some Fun.”

“We have stick horses, roping ropes, candy, tattoos, cowboy hats and bandanas, so it should be good,” she said. The bandanas are being provided by the sheriff’s posse.

Children will begin registering at the arena for the Special Rodeo at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12.

After it ends, participants will ride a shuttle to the sheriff’s posse where that organization will donate a dinner for the kids and their families.

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