Originally created 01/24/04

Sold-out crowd turns out to watch bull riding event



Corey Atwell considers bull riding the ultimate extreme sport. It almost became too exciting for him Friday night.

The 16-year-old cowboy rode Mexico City the required eight seconds and marked a 85 in third annual USC Aiken Extra Inning Bull Riding event in front of a sold out Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center. Unfortunately for Atwell, his ride just began.

"It got scary," he said. "It was getting pretty bad."

Will Berryhill, of Travelers Rest, S.C., posted a 90 to win the competition and earn $2,140. Cord McCoy, of Tupelo, Okla., rung up an 87 and finished second ($1,807.50), while Danell Tipton, of Spencer, Okla., and Jeremy May, of McLeansville, N.C., tied for third ($903.75).

While Atwell didn't finish in the money, he did receive something - a rib injury. As he tried to jump off Mexico City, Atwell caught his hand in the bull ropes. His eight-second trip became a 30-second adventure as the black bull knocked Atwell around like a wind chime until he pulled free.

Atwell, of Moravian Falls, N.C., showed why his sport may just be the most extreme. He went into the back of the arena, wincing in pain.

If you think he was tough, though, consider McKoy. The 2003 International Pro Bull Riding Association champion rode was scheduled to have surgery this past week to repair his broken arm. Instead, he rode with a cast on his arm.

"I consider it the most dangerous sport," Atwell said. "How many times do you get hung up on a dirt bike and get pulled around the track?"

Bull riders battle the bull and the scoreboard in a friendly competition. Two judges award 25 points for the rider and another 25 for the difficulty of the bull and combine their totals. A score of between 75-77 is considered average.

Ten minutes before Friday's event began, most of the 56 cowboys gathered around in a circle. Shawn Hensley, of Waterloo, S.C., knelt down in the middle and led a prayer as everyone either placed hands in the middle or touched one another's shoulder.

"I just say whatever the Lord tells me to say," Hensley said.

The cowboys put on their boots, spurs, hats, jeans and chaps as they got ready for the competition. But their preparation wasn't through.

The bull riders also had to get mentally ready. One rider threw back a can of "Red Bull" for an energy burst. Atwell did something different - he got mad.

All this for eight seconds atop a bull.

"It's an adrenalin rush," Atwell said.

Said Hensley: "It's like when a motocross rider makes a 50-foot jump."

Event organizer and USC Aiken baseball coach Kenny Thomas's adrenalin rushed for a different reason. The event sold out 20 minutes before its 8 p.m. start. Hundreds of disappointed fans were turned away.

"I'm very happy," said Thomas, as he scanned the arena. "There ain't no empty seats."