Bucking Bulls pack grandstand at fair

HUGHESVILLE – Cowboy Christmas came to the Lycoming County Fair Tuesday night.

Mike Miller, of Jersey Shore, brought his Bucking Bulls to the fair for the third consecutive year and entertained a full grandstand with International Bull Riders (IBR) sanctioned competition and sideshow antics like “mutton busting” – kids trying to stay on a sheep – and the banter of rodeo clown Matt Merritt and announcer Luke Kaufman.

Merritt, who says his job keeps him traveling all year long and tweets @mattmerritt8, told groaners over his wireless headset of the “you know what American needs?” variety – e.g. “more Justin boots, less Justin Bieber” – and picked out ladies from the crowd to cast bait into a bucket from 30 feet away for a $500 prize. Kaufman kept him in line and kept the music pumping as 20-plus riders competed for IBR points and dollars throughout the evening.

This time of year on the bull riding circuit is called Cowboy Christmas because so many points and dollars are available, with so many fairs and competitions going on.

“Everything is going on right now – if you can stay healthy, you can make some money,” said rider Nick Proud. “There’s some hands here, what we call good riders. Everyone’s trying to get that money. If you don’t go ride, you don’t get that money.”

Riders Proud and Andrew Griffith both are from Maryland, and have day jobs as a cattlehand and with the National Park Service, respectively. Both of them drove up for the night and were back at their jobs today.

The money makes the time and travel worth it, but so does the fun of it, Proud says.

“It’s one of them things you did it since you were a kid. Not many people are doing as an adult what they dreamed of a little bitty kid. Some people like the extreme sport part of it. It’s hard, but you make good money if you’re good.”

Kyle Carson, 20, of Evans City, was the first rider to stay on his bull for the 8 seconds required to get a score on Tuesday night. Carson, who attends Ranger College, in Texas, on a rodeo scholarship, also is one of the few scholar-athletes in this country who can earn some cash for himself at his sport when he’s making money for others.

“I started riding steers when I was 11, and gave that up after my first year at college,” Carson said. “I’m just bull riding now – it’s my best event.”

Tuesday night’s event was what hands call “$2,000-added.” That means the promoter added $2,000 to the prize pot made up of $75 from each entrant.

That sort of money blows away Steve Gray, who drove here from Bragg, Okla., to show off and possibly sell two bulls he raised that are “really, really bucky.”

“In my time, a $2-grand added, we would drive across the country for that,” he said. “(Bull riding) really started blasting off 20 years ago. Versus, which is now CBS Sports, they started showing it, and now guys are shooting for the Big Show. The sponsorships there are excellent. These guys are learning how to win and get there.”