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Better things seen for kids and Nature Coast Rodeo

The tale Dianna Bandhauer tells about the first year of the Manatee Festival should make Ray Bass feel a little better about his second annual Nature Coast Rodeo. Because the first, it seems, was a bit of a disappointment for Bass.

Started last year in an effort to raise money for local youth sports, the first Nature Coast Rodeo wasn't exactly what Bass expected. Both in turnout and in money raised, the numbers weren't quite up to par.

Which came as a surprise to Bass, who put on a similar event with great success in his old stomping grounds of Chiefland.

"I did a rodeo in Chiefland for three years," Bass said. "The first year we turned a $10,000 profit. It was scary, because I didn't know if anybody would show up. But it was just as scary when they did, because we didn't know what we would do with all the people."

Bass didn't have such problems last year, the first for the Nature Coast Rodeo. Attendance wasn't nearly what he expected (even though rain hampered attendance) and he even wondered whether Citrus County was the right venue for the event.

Bass hopes things turn around this year, and that the event will catch on like it did in Chiefland. According to the experts, things should change.

"There wasn't anybody at the first Manatee Festival," said Bandhauer, a member of the Citrus County Youth Sports Council, which is to receive a percentage of the profits from the rodeo. "I had to have my 5K runners come over for the awards ceremony just so we'd have people there, and look how big it is now."

Whether the Nature Coast Rodeo rivals that event remains to be seen. Still, Bass has high hopes for this year's event, thanks in part to some generous sponsors and a top-flight lineup of events and entertainment.

Highlighting this year's rodeo will be the appearance of Texas Bill, a renowned rodeo clown who will treat the crowd to a variety of skits and stunts featuring himself and his bevy of animals. Meanwhile, the event will have the usual bull riding, calf roping, team roping, barrel racing and bronc riding, plus a calf scramble in which a group of local kids try to snatch a ribbon off the tail of a calf.

A devoted football fan, Bass donated the proceeds from the Chiefland rodeo to the local youth football program up there, but has decided to share the wealth here in Citrus, giving most of the proceeds to the Citrus County Youth Sports Council, which distributes the money among the county's youth leagues.

The rodeo earned $300 for the council last year, which it used to purchase coaching manuals for local teams. Bandhauer admitted the money helped the organization, but also admitted she expects the numbers to rise in the coming years.

"Once it gets established, and people know it's going to be here every year, more will come," she said.

WEST CITRUS GIRLS STUMBLE: So they finally lost a game. So someone finally found a way to score on their seemingly impenetrable defense. So what.

For the West Citrus United under-12 girls soccer team, the ride (which included 12 straight wins, 11 by shutout) was clearly worth it.

"It was a young team, but the hardest-working team I've coached. And I've been coaching soccer for nine years," head coach Butch Bernabe said.

Citrus United posted 10 straight wins before a goal was scored against them in a 7-1 win over Zephyrhills two weeks ago, and 12 straight before falling to an experienced Central Pasco squad in a wild loss Saturday.

Despite the fact Central Pasco had played more than twice as many games, West Citrus battled, and even dominated at times. But, in the end, it fell when Central Pasco netted an improbable goal on a corner kick with just over one minute remaining in the second overtime period.

WEST CITRUS BOYS ADVANCE: The West Citrus United under-13 boys soccer team won all three games at the President's Cup quarterfinals Saturday and Sunday in Fort Myers, qualifying for this weekend's final four in Lakeland.