Andy Cook never hesitated when his son, James Pope Cook, decided he wanted to ride bulls.
The elder Cook, a police officer in Hephzibah, grew up bronc riding. But that wasn't the sport that triggered his worst pain. Instead, he tore knee ligaments playing football during his junior year of high school. With that fresh on his mind, he had no problem allowing J.P. (then 9) to hop aboard a two-ton animal.
"It didn't bother me," the elder Cook said. "You can get hurt playing football."
Health has not been a major concern for the younger Cook, now 16. Instead, his main problem has been travel, because most bull riding events are at least 90-minute car rides from Augusta. He won't have that concern this weekend.
Cook is one of two local competitors, along with Thomson's Clay Marsh, competing in the bull riding portion of the sixth annual Rodeo Nights, starting today at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.
"It feels good riding in front of everyone I know," Cook said.
A Hephzibah High School junior, Cook is a veteran bull rider and a member of the Foothills Youth Rodeo Association. Cook placed third in the FYRA finals last year. In 2008, he finished first.
Cook's had so much success in bull riding that "he's got buckles for every day of the week," said Sonia Cook, his mother.
It was an inauspicious start for Cook when he first jumped aboard a bull. He soon got bucked off and didn't get on another bull for a year. Still, he discovered a new sport with more excitement than baseball, which he stopped playing.
"I knew I wanted to do that for a while," he said. "Whenever you stay on and make a good ride, you can't explain the feeling."
Cook's worst injury came last May when he fell off a bull and broke his arm. A week later, he competed in an event in Thomson.
Cook said he competes in about 200 events in a year -- mostly during the summer. Typically, he travels to upstate South Carolina and North Carolina for weekend rodeos.
He plans on competing on the Professional Bullriders Circuit when he meets the age requirement -- he needs to be 18. Before then, he's looking to the hometown rodeo to help him break a current slump. He said he hasn't had his focus of late.
"I guess I haven't had my head on right," he said. "Hopefully, everything will turn around this weekend.
"I hope I win. That's what I plan on doing."