Kenny Thomas realizes his master promotion skills. For instance, take last year.
Hordes of people lined the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center plaza on a chilly Friday evening. Twenty minutes before Thomas' second annual Extra Inning World Championship Bull Riding event began, people were being turned away.
"We sold this thing out last year," Thomas, the event organizer, said. "There's not many events that do that in Augusta."
If the competition sells out again, it would surprise no one. After all, Thomas started improving the event after last year. For the first time, tonight's show - which begins at 8 at the civic center - will be an invitation-only affair featuring 50 top bull riders.
"I just decided I want to keep moving with this thing and make it better for the fans," Thomas said.
The past two years, Thomas sought regional-level competition for the event, presented by the USC Aiken baseball team. But for this year, he added more money and added criteria for the field of competitors.
To qualify for this event, bull riders must be in the top 20 of the International Pro Rodeo Association, top 20 of the Southeastern Bull Riders Association or have some level of success on the Professional Bull Riders circuit.
Some of the bull riders include PBR riders Sevi Torturo, Blaine Whipp, Michael Riggs, Melmo Quintero and two sets of brothers in Clay and Jake McIntyre and Daniel and Demeko Tipton.
International Finals Rodeo contestants Jason Creekmore and Josh Reed, along with 17-year-old Corey Atwell, the No. 1 rider in the SBRA, also will be competing.
"The guys we have coming in have credentials a whole lot better than last year," said Thomas, who is also the USC Aiken baseball coach.
"We have guys who have been very successful bull riders."
Of course, the better the rider, the better the bull. Thomas said he's brought in special bulls that will be tougher than they've been in recent memory.
"We're trying to get the best bulls against the best cowboys," he said.
Competitors represent 16 states, including Michigan, New York, Oklahoma, Florida and Georgia. They will be vying for a pot that's more than tripled since last year's show.
Will Berryhill of Travelers Rest, S.C., won the 2004 event and took home $2,140. This year, the champion will earn about $10,000, while second place will collect $6,000. And any rider who puts together a qualifying run - eight seconds - and doesn't finish in one of the top spots will earn $100.
"It's going to pay a whole lot more than it has in the past," Thomas said. "We're trying extremely hard to make this bull riding the top one-day bull riding event in the world."
Money raised from the event will be divided between USC Aiken's baseball team and the Aiken AMBUCS club, which awards scholarships to disabled seniors in high school.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
WHAT: Third annual Extra Inning World Championship Bull Riding competition
WHERE: Augusta-Richmond County Civic CenterWHEN: 8 p.m. tonight
WHO: 50 top bull riders against top bulls handpicked by event organizers
TICKETS: $18 reserved lower level; $14 adults (upper level), $7 children 12 and under (upper level)
FORMAT: The top six riders will advance to the short go. There, the rider with the best two-run average wins the competition.
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