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Arena set to rope in the fans

The names Ken Bailey, Gregg Ash and Terry Postrach mean little to many people - but to those in the rodeo world, they are synonymous with Kurt Schilling, Peyton Manning or Tiger Woods. In their chosen sport - calf roping - they are among the best.

And while these former grand champions may or may not be attending the US Calf Ropers Association this weekend at Covington Center Arena, the next world champion might be - and all you have to do to see him is show up.

"There's no admission fee," said Tony Wells, the center's manager, who added the concessions stands will be open.

The competition begins at 9:30 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday, with roping, open roping, handicap roping and breakaway roping among the events. Calf ropers from across the country will be attending.

The sport of calf roping originated in the American West, when, after the Civil War, huge herds of cattle began to cover the open range as Americans moved into new territory. At roundups, the roping skills were essential for getting calves gathered and branded. When the dust from the actual round-up settled down, the cowboys would take a little free time to show off their essential skills, and the competition grew from there.

About the turn of the century, as the open ranges began to disappear under the gleaming silver of barbed wire, rodeo became recognized as a competitive sport, extending the life and enhancing the romance of the cowboy, an American icon. The first formal rodeo was believed to have been held in Cheyenne, Wy., in 1872, and calf roping has always been one of the rodeo activities. Popularized through Wild West shows, special performances at cattlemen's conventions, and finally, through movies and television, the sport has been taken from a rancher's backyard to Madison Square Garden

- and to Andalusia.

"We have lots of different kinds of roping," said Wells. "We have calf roping about three times a year, then we have other kinds - team roping, roping with the rodeo, that kind of stuff."

The United States Calf Ropers Association is a membership association that is designed to give calf ropers a fair and competitive chance to compete in the sport of calf roping. Since 1996 the USCRA has been holding calf roping events across the United States, and will sponsor more than 100 events in 2004 alone.

In calf roping, a calf is released in the arena and must cross the scoreline before the rider breaks the chute barrier or a ten-second penalty is added to his score. After roping the calf, the cowboy runs down the rope and throws the animal by hand. Any three legs of the calf must be tied with a piggin' string. The tie must hold for six seconds or the roper is disqualified.

USCRA also provides for a Girls Breakaway division. In breakaway roping, after calf is caught, the horse is stopped and the rope breaks away from the saddle horn where it's tied on with a string.

The time is stopped as soon as the rope breaks away.

The arena has been booked almost solid on weekends for the next three to four months. Next month, the venue will host the Junior and High School Rodeo Feb. 7 and 8. The 4-H horse show will be the following weekend.

On Feb. 21 and 22, Pat Paralli, noted for his "Savvy System" of horsemanship, will give workshops and on Feb. 27, 28 and 29, horsepower will replace horses with a Monster Truck Show.

For more information about upcoming arena events, call 428-2045.