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People with special needs saddle up for an exceptional rodeo

Updated: 2013-12-30T05:05:03Z

By BRAD COOPER

The Kansas City Star

Tommy Tatum takes his life into his own hands every time he mounts a rodeo bull.

It takes courage to ride a 1,700-pound animal that could throw him and crush him in seconds.

But he’s hardly brave compared to many of the people with special needs he worked with Sunday night at a special rodeo event.

“When we come to a bull ride, we’re faced with one challenge: that’s riding a bull for eight seconds,” Tatum said.

“Some of them are challenged with getting dressed, eating and walking,” he said. “Their challenges go on day in and day out.”

Tatum was among the cowboys who helped people with special needs get a little taste of what it’s like to rope a steer, ride a bull or hop onto a horse — even if hay bales were substituted for animals.

It was called the Exceptional Rodeo and it was held at Hale Arena as part of the New Year’s Rodeo Stampede organized by C.R. McKellips Rodeo Co. of Raymore.

Dozens of children, teens or young adults climbed atop bales of hay that cowboys rocked back and forth to create the sense of being tossed about on an angry bull.

They learned to twirl rope or try their hand at roping rebar configured to look like a rodeo steer.

It was a special event for the children of Angela Lunceford of Independence, who has two sons affected by fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that causes intellectual disabilities and poses behavioral and learning challenges.

The rodeo was almost like a reunion for Lunceford’s 22-year-old son, T.J., who grew up around rodeo and learned how to ride horseback at an earlier age.

“Since he got big, he really doesn’t do much of that,” Lunceford said. “This is an opportunity for him to get around people who are familiar to him. For him it’s like a homecoming, getting to be around family and friends again.”

Those working the rodeo got an opportunity to share their passion for what’s considered the most dangerous eight seconds in sports.

Dalton Morris of Odessa, Mo., typically entertains crowds as a rodeo clown. On Sunday, the 18-year-old sported his painted clown face as he tried to help those with special needs get a better feel of what it’s like on the rodeo stage.

“It means a lot to me,” Morris said of his work at the Exceptional Rodeo.

“These kids get a lot out of it,” he said. “They have a smile on their face right when they get in. They’re just a ball of fire because they’re so excited.”

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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