Originally created 07/17/04

First-year pro will try to hang on at rodeo fund-raiser



NORTH AUGUSTA - When George Brunson mentions his newfound passion for riding bulls, everyone seems to ask him the same single-word question.

Why?

Mr. Brunson, 27, a first-year professional bull rider from Aiken, has a simple, two-word answer.

"I keep telling them, 'Why not?'

"My brother, he said I was crazy - why do you want to do this?" said Mr. Brunson, who competed in the first round of the University of South Carolina Aiken Baseball Rodeo fund-raiser at the Hippodrome on Friday night.

He hears the same question while working his day job for his brother's pest control company.

He has the same answer.

"Lots of people ask me why I want to crawl under a house with all that dirt and dust and all them bugs and all and I tell them 'Why not?'" said Mr. Brunson, a lean, sandy-haired man with wispy chin whiskers and a thin moustache.

He puts in a full week as a "bug buster," then spends three weekends a month traveling to rodeos throughout the Southeast, hoping to hit two or three contests back-to-back. With the shank end of the summer rodeo season in full swing, he already has ridden 50 bulls. This weekend, he will ride two more.He lives to last eight seconds on the back of a snot-snorting, twisting, half-ton animal that could leave him crippled for life.

"I've always been one of those spontaneous, bounce-off-the-wall, high-energy type people, and I always loved cattle, and I just decided to give this a try," the Aiken High School graduate said. "I like to be outdoors. I never wanted to join the military - that's too structured. With rodeo, it's wide open and it's wild. It's a big, ol' family and there's not a part of it I don't want to try."

Although he grew up in a horse-crazed town and has ridden most of his life, it isn't the best place for a novice bull rider to learn the craft. He and a buddy regularly drive up to the arena of a Princeton, N.C., stock contractor who charges them $10 a bull to sharpen their riding skills.

Mr. Brunson isn't content to be only a bull rider. He wants to master the other "rough stock" events of rodeo - bareback bronc and saddle bronc. He rides on two circuits, the International Professional Rodeo Association, which is sort of the Triple A minor leagues of the sport, and the Southeastern Bullriders Association.

"My goal is to get on as many bulls and broncs as I can and get as many rides as I can under my belt," he said.

In January, he made his first professional ride at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, slamming out of the chute on a bull named Dirt Dauber.

The ride didn't last long.

Dirt Dauber drilled Mr. Brunson into the dirt, severely bruised the rookie's right shoulder and left him with a 6-inch gash along the right side of his head.His mother, Joyce; his sister, Ruth; and his brother and boss, David, were all witnesses.

"Our whole family was there and we never get together for anything," said his mother, who frequently travels to rodeos with her youngest son."I do a lot of praying. I always ask the people in my Bible class to pray for him. You know, you sort of get into it and you just can't help but watch."

If you go

WHAT: The University of South Carolina Aiken Baseball Rodeo

WHERE: The Hippodrome, near Interstate 520 and U.S. Highway 178 in North Augusta.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today

ADMISSION: $8 for children 10 and younger; $12 for adults PHONE: 278-4849