At 7:30 Saturday evening, Kenny Thomas stood on the red Georgia clay full of pep, talking with everyone who came his way.
As the organizer of the 12th annual USC Aiken Extra Inning Bull Riding event, Thomas is the point man at James Brown Arena. Sponsors, volunteers and bull riders all have questions, and Thomas resolves every issue before several thousands spectators settle into their seats to watch 45 competitors try to remain eight seconds on the various bulls.
By the time the bull riders entered the arena at 8:15, Thomas himself was getting settled. Six months worth of preparation for one of the biggest annual events in Augusta was over.
“It’s gotten,” Thomas said, “to where we know what to do.”
The head coach of USC Aiken’s baseball team, Thomas began his day by leading a 2½-hour morning practice in Aiken. After arriving at 2 p.m. in Augusta, he spent three hours helping prepare the arena – placing the fencing, adding seating to the floor and moving the mechanical bull inside.
Planning for the event begins in August, when Thomas starts lining up the stock contractor, rodeo clown and others associated with the event. Then, he lines up the bull riders – 75 wanted to ride for Saturday’s show, but he had to shorten the number to 45.
All Thomas’ efforts paid off as another large crowd filled the arena.
“It’s become a tradition,” Thomas said. “The thing about this event is timing. It’s the third Saturday of the year. There’s not a lot going on.”
Money raised from the event go to support charity (Aiken AMBUCS) as well as the Pacer baseball program. USC Aiken is a preseason top-20 selection in Division II, and Thomas said the extra money helps buys items like baseballs, jerseys and nice hotel rooms when his team travels.
“I want our players to leave here knowing they had a great experience,” he said. “And we’re able to do that with events like this.”