JACKSONVILLE — Each year cowboys descend upon the rodeo arena behind Lon Morris College to entertain spectators with events such as roping and barrel racing. Lines form to buy food, the bleachers are filled and the rodeo announcer's voice booms loudly over the speakers.
It's another year of the Tops In Texas Rodeo, and for some, it's simply a night out with the family. But for long-time workers such as Charles Dickerson and Roland Adams, the event signifies decades of team work and rodeo fun.
Dickerson, a 71-year-old Frankston native, came to the area 52 years ago to rodeo clown. At the time, Jacksonville had an amateur rodeo on Tena Street, which was later torn down and moved to the location behind Lon Morris.
“After the rodeo on Sunday I met my wife at the rodeo arena then we got married later that year. I moved to Jacksonville and got involved in amateur rodeo and then the next year we built the rodeo in 1962. I was active in the rider's club and active in all aspects of the rodeo,” he said.
The first year of the Tops In Texas Rodeo was special, he said, because Jacksonville wasn't used to a big-time rodeo, and organizers brought in actor Michael Landon, who at the time played “Little Joe Cartwright” from the television show “Bonanza” for entertainment.
He said the town got behind the event after that first year, and at one time it included a youth quadrille with the Jacksonville Rider's Club Quadrille.
“It just went from there, and it's lasted 50 years,” Dickerson said.
But that doesn't mean there hasn't been change.
When the rodeo began, a star entertainer performed four nights. Later, it went to a star performer every two nights, and in recent years, there hasn't been a big music entertainer, just the rodeo.
“The entertainers were very popular, and they were affordable. Later on, it got to where they were so expensive they priced us out of business or priced themselves out of business as far as entertainment is concerned.”
The timing also changed this year. Tops In Texas was always in July, but the event was moved to May in hopes cooler weather would attract more people.
Dickerson said one of his favorite rodeos was one where American country music artist Lee Greenwood performed.
“Lee was the entertainer and did such a tremendous job,” he said.
His favorite part of Tops In Texas is “working with the people.” He said he also always enjoyed the rodeo parade.
In the old days, a lot of people didn't have the opportunity to see the top entertainers that were brought to town, and the rodeo provided that, he said.
When asked why he keeps coming back, Dickerson cited, “love of rodeo, love of people and love in Jacksonville.”
For Adams, he said he not only enjoys working with organizers and bringing entertainment to Jacksonville but also making good money from the event that goes back to the community.
This time around, the two rodeo veterans are looking forward to another great event and more success.
“I'm looking forward to being able to visit with a lot of folks (who will) come back here for the 50th that we haven't seen in years…” Dickerson said.
“We just want to invite everybody out. It's going to be a great time, and this (year's) entertainer, (Troy Lerwill, who is known as “The Wild Child,”) is something else. People are going to love it, and people are going to love the stock.”
Adams agreed, saying, “We always look forward to the Jacksonville rodeo. … We feel like it's good for the city, good for the rider's club and lions club.”