Thousands expected to attend rodeo in memory of OCHS grad Wyatt Cole
All photos by Jordan Prather
BY MOLLY HAINES
Sweet Owen Editor
Wyatt Cole lived life “wide open with no fear.” For the second year in a row, a rodeo demonstrating that same motto will take place in his memory at the Owen County Fairgrounds July 22-23.
A 2017 graduate of Owen County High School, Wyatt began his rodeo career while in kindergarten, joining a roping team alongside his older brother Quinn. His rodeo accomplishments were extensive: he qualified multiple times for the National High School Finals Rodeo in both middle and high school. He continued his success at the University of Tennessee at Martin, where he advanced to the finals of multiple collegiate rodeos during the 2018-19 season.
But on Feb. 10, 2019, the 20-year-old’s promising future came to a devastating end when injuries he sustained in a car crash near campus claimed his life.
In the wake of Wyatt’s death, his parents — Eden Shale Farm residents Greg and Isabella Cole — created the Wyatt Cole Memorial Scholarship Fund and asked for donations in lieu of flowers.
In the days and weeks that followed, community members who recognized the significant impact Wyatt’s lifestyle had on those around him began talks of a rodeo in Wyatt’s hometown in support of the scholarship fund.
Thus the Wide Open No Fear (WONF) Rodeo was born.
Despite their best efforts to move forward with the inaugural event in July 2020, COVID-19 forced its cancellation, giving WONF committee members even more time to plan for Owen County’s first rodeo, which would draw an estimated 6,000 spectators over two days.
This year’s event will offer much of the same excitement and thrills, with newly added events and entertainment.
Produced by Crofton, Kentucky’s Lone Star Rodeo Company, contestants from multiple states and all ability levels compete in eight different rough stock and timed events for cash prizes. Each performance lasts from two to two and a half hours and includes eight to 12 contestants, with additional contestants running after the performance in what is called “slack.”
In addition to the rodeo itself, events geared toward a younger audience will begin at 7:30 p.m. both nights—best-dressed cowboy and cowgirl contest for kids under 10, gold rush for kids 10 and under, and an appearance by rodeo clown and barrelman, Greek Ellick.
On Friday, the Kentucky Bourbon Trailers—a string band offering a mix of country, bluegrass, and folk—will perform under the fairgrounds pavilion following the rodeo. Country music group Blacktop Rodeo will provide Saturday’s post-rodeo entertainment.
Rodeo for a cause
“The production and organization of a rodeo can be daunting,” Isabella said.
Both Greg and Isabella agreed that the rodeo would not have come to fruition without the tireless efforts of Jenni Duncan and Holly Bowling.
WONF committee secured enough sponsors to cover the entire cost of the 2021 event and sold enough tickets to award $10,000 in scholarship funds to students in Owen County. Scholarships are also awarded to students involved in the Kentucky High School Rodeo Association and the Indiana High School Rodeo Association.
The majority of the sponsorships come from within Owen County.
“This community has been amazing,” Greg added. “(Community support) has been above and beyond anything we’ve anticipated or ever dreamed of.”
A family affair
In 1992, the Kentucky Horse Park played host to the Kentucky National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) qualifying event, where Greg and Isabella first became aware of the sport.
“We did the fundraising for that event, and in doing so, we learned that these kids were starting to rodeo in kindergarten,” Isabella said. “When we got married and had children that showed interest in horses and western riding, we started looking at rodeo.”
With Wyatt in kindergarten and his brother Quinn in first grade, Isabella took them to their first rodeo in Hopkinsville, Kentucky —”It’s like taking your child to any sporting event, you just see if they like it,” she added.
“Quinn loved it; Wyatt had an overwhelming passion for it,” Greg said. In the years that followed, Wyatt and Quinn exceeded all expectations, competing in the NHSRA at both the junior and high school levels.
While their successes were each proud moments for Greg and Isabella, winning could never overshadow the time spent as a family.
“It’s a family event,” Isabella said. “Moms and dads are gonna have to be just as invested as the child; there will be a lot of traveling. It’s an opportunity for families to be in a vehicle, spending many hours driving, and getting to spend time with their children. That’s what we liked about it.”
“It develops quite the work ethic within your child, too,” Greg added, cautioning that the sport is not for the faint of heart.
‘A long-term project for Owen County’
Drawing 6,000 spectators for its inaugural event in 2021, members of the Kentucky Lone Star Rodeo Company closed out the weekend on a positive note.
“They are in the family entertainment/rodeo business,” Greg said. “They’ve been in it for 70-plus years, and they feel like we had started a rodeo that could go on for a long, long time. This wasn’t just a little, ‘OK, we’ve done it. Let’s do it a year or two kind of thing.’ This is going to be a long-term project, I think, for Owen County. They’ve got something to be proud of; this was a pretty nice rodeo.”
Pre-sale tickets are available now through Friday, July 22, at www.lonestarrodeocompany.com/buy-tickets.html. The cost is $15 per adult and $10 per child. Children ages 3 and under are admitted free. Tickets are also available at the Owen County Visitor Center & Gift Shop, 300 S. Main St., Owenton, KY 40359.
For more information on the Wide Open No Fear Memorial Scholarship Fund, visit www.wideopennofear.com.