75-Year Gladewater Round-Up Rodeo Tradition Filled With Passion, Pride, Competition
By TAYLOR GRIFFIN
GLADEWATER -- After growing up in the business, Jacobs Crawley, 24, knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life: become a saddle bronc rider.
As a recent Aggie graduate, Crawley said he began competing in rodeos as a 19-year-old and hasn't looked back. Aside from the scrapes and bruises, he is in love with what he does.
But his career is also a family tie. Both he and his younger brother Sterling travel the country performing in rodeos. Crawley calls him "the taller, better-lookin' one."
For professionals such as the Crawley brothers, rodeos aren't just a lifestyle -- they're an art form.
"It's the adrenaline rush. It's what drives them," said Don Graham, rodeo director of the Gladewater Round-Up Rodeo. "Those people out there -- they dearly, dearly love what they do."
The passion and competition could be felt by the performers and the crowd alike at the annual Gladewater Round-Up Rodeo, marking its 75th year of tradition and pride.
Hailing itself as the largest rodeo in East Texas, it began Wednesday with rodeo events nightly and wraps up today at 8:15 p.m.
"It's our 75th, so it's the biggest feather in our cap," Graham said.
The rodeo, always held the first week in June, hosts performers from all over the country and even a few from New Zealand, Australia and Canada. The entry fees from each contestant go towards the cash prizes for the winners.
The "Tough Enough to Wear Pink" event was Thursday night, which supported the Susan G. Komen for the Cure campaign. Directors of the rodeo and many spectators donned their brightest pink to encourage the cause.
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association incorporated the breast cancer awareness nights at other events, and the committee in Gladewater felt the need to support it as well, Graham said.
"It's a big deal here locally, so we got on the same page as them," he said.
One of the major aspects of the rodeo is the scholarships awarded to area high school students who exemplify good grades and academics as well as financial need. About $25,000 is given away to these deserving high school seniors. This year, 12 students were selected to receive a scholarship.
Several types of vendors, including Western hats and cowboy boot companies along with people selling light-up and glow-in-the-dark toys, encircled the arena where hundreds of cheering rodeo enthusiasts whooped and hollered as another brave rider bucked onto the field.
"It's their tradition," Don Gay, producer of the rodeo, said. "There are a lot of people in the stands that are fifth- and sixth-generation rodeo-goers, and they've just always gone. It's the same time every year, so they always make sure they come."
With 42 years of experience with the sport, Gay came to the Gladewater Round-Up as a sophomore in high school for the first time and has been coming ever since. To him, the event is more than just a good time at the rodeo.
"It's almost like being around my family. You become acquainted with everyone," he said. "After a while, when you come here, you're home."
Graham sees the rodeo as his way of giving back. Growing up in Troup, this particular event was the biggest hometown rodeo for him. He explained that the crew works year-round to perfect any mistakes and make sure that each night of the rodeo goes smoothly.
"There's just wonderful communication and dedication that these people put in for a performance every night," he said. "There's a lot of working parts. We've got people here who make sure the dirt is just right and then those who see to it that the banners here show off our sponsors."
The Gladewater Round-Up brings in a lot of money and visitors to the city, Gay said, which is one of the reasons why the rodeo is such a spectacle that excites people every year.
"Gladewater's not a real big town, but we sure put on a big time rodeo," he said.