TAMPA — A taste of the Wild West will come to Tampa next month when the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds hosts the Tampa Bay Pro Rodeo March 24 and 25.
"We are very excited as an organization to hold such a prestigious event here at the State Fairgrounds," Florida State Fair Authority executive director Chuck Pesano said.
The event, sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, will feature bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping, barrel racing and bareback riding. The event is a joint effort between the FSFA and the Texas-based Frontier Rodeo Company.
"We had a chance to come down and visit the facility and the Expo Hall is a tremendous venue to host a rodeo," said eight-time world champion bull rider Don Gay. "The area has so many people, and even though some might not know which end of the horse is the front, the rodeo has something for everyone in the family to enjoy."
Gay said one thing separating professional rodeo from other sports is the access and recognition granted to spectators.
"It's not like football where the players have on these helmets and just put on pads to play games," he said. "Rodeo is a lifestyle that these guys live 24/7 and fans have the chance afterward to get up close and personal and meet them all."
Tickets for the rodeo are $15 to $30 for each session of the two-day event. In addition to the professional events, there also will be stick bull riding for children before Saturday's rodeo. The program, designed to promote rodeo among youth, allows kids to get on the riding surface and interact with the animals in addition to riding sticks instead of bulls.
"The kids get a chance to get down where the riders ride and play around in the dirt," Gay said. "There's a lot of color and pageantry to the rodeo, and it really is a family experience that has something for everyone in the family."
Gay, 58, retired from professional riding in 1989 and has done color commentating for FOX sports and ESPN. The Texas native holds the most world titles of any rider and was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.
"It's a lot better to be shooting the bull," he said. "Than riding the bull."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]