PBR champ brings bull riding tour to Cassville
Jenkins: 'It's a lot of bull riding in a short amount of time'
The Rotary Club of Cassville will be hosting the Cassville Bull Blast in conjunction with the L.J. Jenkins Bull Riding Tour on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Bill Hailey Arena.
Jenkins, a Professional Bull Riders Association (PBR) champion bull rider, will be at Country Dodge in Cassville from noon to 1 p.m. the day of the event to meet fans and sign autographs.
Each year, the club hosts three major events to raise funds for community programs. This year will be its first time to host a bull riding event.
"We've had the rodeo event, but this year, it's strictly bull riding," said Eugene Dilbeck, Rotary Club president. "Jenkins is a PBR champion. Within that circle, he's pretty famous. He has gone into producing bull riding events and has this tour. Riders participate in the event to qualify for the national qualification event in Oklahoma City."
Jenkins, who grew up near Nixa, was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for his efforts in the PBR over a 10-year career. He started riding calves at the age of 5.
"My dad rode, and so did my brother," he said. "In Missouri, they have a youth rodeo organization, so when I was 8, I was winning money already riding calves."
In the eighth grade, Jenkins moved to New Mexico, but continued competing.
At 15, he began riding bulls.
"What helped me the most was going from calves to steers to bulls to big bulls, so the transition wasn't as hard," he said. "I knew the feeling already [of being on bulls] so it wasn't as intimidating. I knew what I was getting into."
One of the best days in his career, Jenkins said, was winning the first PBR event he competed in, on his 18th birthday in Gillette, Wyo.
"I knew from day one that's where I wanted to go -- to be in the PBR," he said.
In 2006, Jenkins won the PBR World Finals average as only a second-year rider in the circuit, and in 2011, won the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Only three people have ever won both.
"But, I never got that world title," he said. "I was 1.64 seconds away. Believe me, that number sticks with me. In 2012, I got on Asteroid, and if I would've stayed on him, I would've been world champion. There's a funny thing about me and that bull. I got on him that next March and I only had to stay on for two seconds to win that event, but only stayed on 1.5 seconds."
Jenkins said what sets bull riding apart from other sports is the unknown.
"You don't know what's going to happen," he said. "Nothing's over until the bull is out of the arena."
In April 2015, Jenkins' career was cut short when his neck was fractured after being thrown from Strong Heart at an event in Nampa, Idaho.
"I broke my neck and it kind of forced me to retire," he said. "I was riding perfect and my hand came out of my rope. It's the way he threw me up in the air. I came down wrong and landed right on my head. I probably landed like that numerous times before, but it was just a freak deal."
Jenkins recovered from the injury, but his bull-riding days were over.
When he officially retired in July 2015, he was the 24th-ranked bull rider in the world standings, had 42 top-five finishes and 19, 90-point rides. He had ridden 15 of 41 bulls on the Built Ford Tough Series that season, and had posted six top-10 finishes, including a second-place performance in Seattle.
Now, Jenkins stays busy with stock contracting and his tour, allowing him to stay involved in the sport, while giving young riders an opportunity to advance.
"If you had to compare [the bull riding tour] to baseball, this would be like your minor league," he said. "[It's] the young guys who are trying to get themselves qualified on the circuit."
Jenkins shared advice for up-and-coming riders.
"If you put your heart into something, you'll eventually get there," he said. "There was a time when I just wanted to hang it up and quit. But you have to look past that, and it will all come together. All you've got to do is get that one ride in."
Jenkins said 41 riders have signed up to compete in Cassville, and he is offering incentives to encourage riders to step out of their comfort zone.
"The guy who wins will walk out with close to $2,500," he said. "I'm going to be able to give a $10,000 bonus for the tour champion after the year is complete."
Jenkins said he will also buy whoever wins regionals a PBR permit.
"So many young riders are good, but afraid to go to a PBR event because the bulls are tougher," he said. "Without that push, they may not go, so I think the incentives will really help them."
The event is expected to last about two hours.
"It's a lot of bull riding in a short amount of time," said Jenkins, who has 12 contractors lined up to bring their three best bucking bulls.
Cassville is one of 21 stops on his tour.
"Small towns are usually the best events," Jenkins said. "A bull riding show coming to town with good, country folks, it's a big event around here. I really strive to put on good events. It will be great family entertainment. Bull riding is more popular than the rodeos themselves, and I guess because of the action, sitting on a 3,000 pound bull and the danger involved -- that really appeals to people.
"We're offering that to Barry County residents and if they're supportive, we'll probably continue to offer it. We encourage everyone to come out."
Tickets may be purchased at the gate and are $12 for adults; 12 and under, $8; and six and under, free. Gates opens at 5:30 p.m. Concessions will be available, with proceeds and a portion of tickets sales benefit the Rotary Club.
For more information, people may call Dilbeck at 417-442-3318. In the case of bad weather, the event will be moved to Sunday at 2 p.m.