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Opp Jaycees prepare for Rattlesnake Rodeo time

Snakes, snakes and more snakes will again be the star attraction at the 45th Annual Opp Jaycees Rattlesnake Rodeo this March, but there will be some things a little different.

With just over a month before the big weekend, the Jaycees are busy finalizing arts and crafts exhibitors, food vendors, and entertainment for the annual Rattlin' Country Concert. Those finalizing of plans also include getting everything set for the first ever Rodeo to be held at the Covington Center Arena and Kiwanis Community Center in Andalusia.

Monday night, the Jaycees held a special preview for the Rattlesnake Rodeo announcing the entertainment for the concert, along with some of the plans and reasons behind the move to Andalusia.

Jaycee Lori King said the move to Andalusia was not an abandonment of Opp, but rather a way of helping the rodeo stay viable.

"We've had bad weather for the past seven years," she said. "It's rained at least one day of the rodeo each of those years. In some years, we've had to deal with sleet and near snowy conditions."

Because of those wet and cold weekends, the Jaycees were put in the position of finding an indoor arena large enough to accommodate the annual event which draws anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 over the course of the two days.

"We looked in Opp but there wasn't a facility large enough," King said. "The Arena and Kiwanis Building were the only indoor facilities large enough to hold everything."

A secondary reason for the move was financial.

"With the rain outs and bad weather, it was more and more difficult to keep the rodeo going," she commented. "We want to be able to continue to serve the charities in Opp and help out those who need it. If we had suffered one more bad weather event, it's possible we would not be able to have another Rattlesnake Rodeo - and that's something none of us wanted."

The reason the Jaycees looked so diligently for a way to move the rodeo indoors is because it is the group's number one fund-raising event - with dozens of local charities benefiting from the rodeo's profits.

"It's been tough for the past few years to keep things going," she said. "We help with so many local charities, and the rain outs didn't give us the opportunity to continue to help out like we feel we should. The children and youth in Opp really depend on us to help make things happen, and we couldn't keep doing that going in the hole on the rodeo. We had no other choice."

However, King was quick to point out that just because the snake showcase is moving to Andalusia this year, it doesn't mean it won't be back in Opp in the future.

"We're working now on the proper grants to hopefully build our own facility in Opp," she said. "We're hoping to bring the rodeo back to Opp in the near future."

Just because it's a new venue doesn't mean there will be major changes to the rodeo either.

"Everything's going to be basically the same," King said. "It's just in a different place. In fact, we're anticipating a larger crowd because it's indoors and out of the weather. All of our vendors are excited about the opportunity, and we will still have the same groups helping us in Andalusia that we had helping us in Opp."

The shift in venues allows the Jaycees to separate the arts and crafts vendors from the entertainment area and the snakes - for the most part.

"The arts and crafts will be set up in the Kiwanis Building, with the concert and snake races and demonstrations in the Arena," King said. "We will have some small demonstrations in the Kiwanis Building, but most of them will be in the Arena."

The flow of traffic will be conducive to visitor comfort, too.

"There will be one gate for people to pass through," she said. "That makes it easier for everyone and easier for crowd control. Everyone will enter through the arts and crafts, and then be able to visit the different areas. The food vendors will be set up between the two buildings - so if someone doesn't want to see the snakes, they can just browse the arts and crafts."

The Jaycees are also bringing an old favorite back to the rodeo - Daryle Singletary - who will be presenting the Saturday night concert in the Arena.

"Daryle has been a very popular act, and we're glad to bring him back," King said. "He will be performing Saturday, and then Sunday we've got three gospel music acts that will be performing throughout the day. Carl Tillery, Full Anointing, and another group that's been performing at the MacOpry, but they don't have a name yet."

Unicel has also come on board this year as a corporate sponsor for the Rattlesnake Rodeo, and Unicel Representative Tonya McCurley said the company was glad to be a part of one of Alabama's longest-running and most well-known events.

"Unicel is excited about participating in the Rattlesnake Rodeo," McCurley said. "This is a great family event that shines the spotlight on South Alabama in a positive way."