Bull riding fans pack arena

At 8 p.m., Kenny Thomas walked outside James Brown Arena and watched the throngs of people still buying tickets.

As blue jeans-clad fans filed into the arena, the bull riding organizer decided to delay the show.

"I'm going to wait 10 minutes," Mr. Thomas said.

The action already had begun an hour earlier. On the arena floor, a line of people -- mostly children -- forked over $5 to ride a mechanical bull. By 8 p.m., more than 25 people still waited in line.

A near-sellout crowd turned out to watch the annual USC Aiken Benefit Bull Riding Championship, a Professional Bull Riders Challenger Tour event. Bull riding has been one of the hottest tickets in Augusta the past five years.

"The economy may be bad right now, but everybody's got $20 to see the PBR," Mr. Thomas said. "I don't think we're going to see a recession in the James Brown Arena."

April and Tim Ritchie, of Evans, brought their daughters, Heather and Petra, to the show. Mr. Ritchie, a cabinet maker, said the experience was worth the cost.

"It's an opportunity to spend some time with the family," he said. "And the girls like animals."

Jeff Canter, a PBR judge, said he has yet to see a decrease in bull riding interest. Two weeks ago, he said, an event in Knoxville, Tenn., sold 10,000 tickets.

"It's the action of it," Mr. Canter said. "It's cowboys vs. bulls. People just love bull riding."

Chad Denton, a 30-year-old bull rider from Berry Creek, Calif., said sponsorships are down but attendance is not. In five PBR events this year, Mr. Denton has collected more than $8,000.

"The money is here," he said. "We just have to do our part and ride the bulls."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

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