The Santa Maria Elks Rodeo, set to launch its 64th edition today, promises a lot for greenhorns not familiar with the sport or its local tradition of fundraising.

&#8220It/s a huge community event that raises a lot of money for youth,C said Keith Barks, president of Elks Recreation Inc. &#8220If they don/t come out, they won/t know what they/re missing.C

The four-day event kicks off tonight and runs through Sunday at the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center, east of Highway 101 at Santa Maria Way. Today/s and Friday/s performances are at 7 p.m.; action on Saturday and Sunday starts at 2 p.m. The annual parade hits Broadway at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Tonight/s opener also is Family Night, with kids under 6 admitted free with an adult. Otherwise, tickets for tonight cost ,6 for general admission; ,8 for reserved grandstand, and ,20 for box seats (with parking).

Some 350 members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association will compete in the event, which also raises money for youth recreation through the queen contest.

Rodeo won/t be the only action. Some 60 vendors 7 both local and from the rodeo circuit 7 are setting up shop at the Elks/Unocal Event Center.

&#8220It/s going to be Jim Dandy, I/ll guarantee that,C said Arroyo Grande resident Eddie Kutz, a professional rodeo announcer. &#8220It/s going to knock your socks off.C

Here are some tips for greenhorns and veterans alike.

n What to Wear7 Speaking of footwear, boots aren/t a necessity. However, open-toe shoes aren/t advisable. This is a rodeo grounds, not an asphalt jungle, so it can be dusty.

n Fan favorites 7 Two extremes often prove most popular: The thrills of bull riding, where a cowboy tries to stay atop a seething bull for a seemingly interminable eight seconds; and the amusement created while watching youngsters clinging to a sheep scampering around the arena.

&#8220One of the things people here in our town, and towns all over, love is mutton busters,C Barks said.

His personal favorites are the timed events, such as team roping and barrel racing, where multiple skills such as horsemanship are required along with beating the clock.

n Best non-competitors to watch 7 Keep an eye on sponsor flag carriers. They/ve already competed and won the chance to carry a flag, but they/re some among often overlooked athletes.

Riding a horse racing around the arena, they also must keep a firm grip on a flag bearing the name of both national and rodeo sponsors. Oh yeah, typically they do this amid fierce Santa Maria Valley winds. It/s easy to overlook their skills, but don/t.

n Moving moment 7 He has seen it dozens of times, but Kutz said the opener 7 with skydiver Mark Schlatter parachuting into the arena with the American flag 7 is one of the moving displays.

n Must brings 7 A jacket for the evening performances, because the coastal fog can make for a chilly night. For the afternoons, pack some sunscreen.

n Wet your whistle 7 Expect the usual beverages, Coors and Coca-Cola, but for a trip back to your childhood, one booth will offer sno-cones.

n Feed your face 7 Authentic Elks barbecue tri-tip can be found for sale along with barbecue ribs. Strawberry shortcake also should be available. But if that sounds too healthy, the usual fare of funnel cakes, peanuts, nachos and more can be purchased.

&#8220We/ve even got pizza on site,C Barks said.

n Animal care 7 &#8220Rodeo, for somebody who/s never been and thinks it/s cruel to animals, would be amazed it/s not,C Barks said, adding cowboys are more likely to suffer injuries than animals.

Someone listening into his conversation remarked, that &#8220cowboys are a dime a dozens, animals aren/t cheap.C

Animal-rights groups disagree, contending events harm the animals. The rodeo in the past has drawn protesters from animal rights groups, who stage a demonstration Saturday afternoon at the entrance to the rodeo grounds.

n Acquire some new duds 7 From hats and purses to embroidered items and woodcraft, the Elks/Event Center will turn into mini-mall of shopping.

n Salute to military 7 One hour prior to each rodeo performance, free Rodeo tickets will be distributed to active-duty personnel and their dependents, on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last. A current active military identification must be shown. Dependents of active-duty members are also eligible, without the service member being present, provided they show their active duty ID card. (Parking not included)

Beyond today, ticket prices vary depending on the day and seating. For instance general admission is ,8 for Friday/s performance or ,10 for Saturday and Sunday. Reserved grandstand seating ranges from ,10 Friday to ,14 for weekend performances.

For rodeo tickets, call 922-6006. For all other events (banquet and dance), call 925-4125.

May 31, 2007

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