'Heart-rending' opening planned for Piatt rodeo
MONTICELLO — No matter who you talk to in the Piatt County Trail Blazers organization, their voices break when they preview Thursday's opening night ceremony for this year's three-day rodeo.
That's when a riderless horse will open the event in memory of Jorden Austin, last year's Miss Trail Blazers who died in a two-vehicle auto accident on March 21. Ms. Austin, of Hammond, was just 20.
"Our normal procedure is rodeo fair queen does a final lap," said Darci Chupp of Cisco, organizer of the annual Miss Trail Blazers competition. "This year, we are going to have a riderless horse, and the person leading it is Rachel — Jorden's sister and the 2013 rodeo queen."
It will be an emotional time for their mother, Renee, who will formally crown Rachel the following night.
"My girls were 16 months apart in age and did everything together," said Renee Austin. "The queens get to do everything together to promote the rodeo, and Rachel tried out this year because she and her sister would get to do everything together," she added.
The family has also compiled a shadow box that contains Jorden's crown, Miss Trail Blazers belt buckle and other items that will be placed in the center of the ring for Thursday's opening ceremonies.
Trail Blazers President Linda Dyson said it is important to honor her before they can get down to the business of running a competitive rodeo in Monticello for the 59th year.
"Thursday night is going to be all about Jorden," said Dyson, whose family has been involved with the Trail Blazers rodeo since its inception in 1954. "After we've done that, we're going to try to move on."
But it will still be a heart-rending four days for family and friends of the 2012 rodeo queen.
"It will be very emotional to me. I knew her many years," said Chupp. "She was an amazing, amazing girl, and being queen really meant something to her."
Gates open at 5 p.m. each night for the June 20-22 rodeo, with the traditional bareback, saddle bronc, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping, barrel racing and bull riding competitions beginning at 7:30 p.m. each evening.
Other events include a 10 a.m. Saturday rodeo parade through downtown Monticello, followed by a Kids & Clowns Lunch at Rick Ridings at 11:30 a.m. and a dance following the Saturday night rodeo. This year's queen coronation will be at 7 p.m. Friday.
"Bull riding has always been my favorite," said Dyson, pointing to the "adrenaline of it."
Ticket prices this year are $10 for adults each night, $4 for kids Thursday and $5 the other two days. Weekend passes are also available.
For more information about the rodeo, visit http://www.pctrailblazers.org.