Kids steer the cowboy way

By Gus Bode

Dylan Speck, 11, of Mapleton, competes in a goat-tying event Sunday at the DuQuoin fairgrounds. Speck and his three brothers are members of the Illinois Junior Rodeo Association and travel the country competing in rodeo events. “The trophies, the awards — yeah, the kids like them but that’s not what they’re here for,” Denis Speck, father, said of the friendships his sons have built during their time in the rodeo.– Lynnette Oostmeyer| Daily Egyptian

Calf roping, goat tail-tying and bull riding were all part of the Illinois Junior Rodeo Association event held at the DuQuoin state fair-grounds on Saturday and Sunday.

The event is for kids from kindergarten to eighth grade and gives them the opportunity to show off their skills to rope and ride in the statewide rodeo circuit. The fairground was the final stop before the state championship in Peoria, and it gave the young riders a chance to corral their skills before the end of the 2011 season.


Dennis and Lynnette Speck, of Mapleton, had four sons compete in the weekend event. Dennis Speck said he participated in horseback riding competitions when he was younger, and once his kids got older, he took them to their first rodeo in Fort Madison, Iowa.

“It started out when the boys were small, and we just progressed in to it,” Dennis Speck said. “They started competing with a bunch of them, and they really got into it.”

It started with their 11-year-old son, Dylan, who rode and competed. It then spread to their 8-year-old twin boys Cameron and Connor, and eventually to 6-year-old Avery.

While their favorite events may vary, the boys said they enjoy being part of the rodeo and the friends they made with it.

Sandra VanDerLeest, secretary for the IJRA, said the purpose of the rodeo association is to introduce sportsmanship and leadership qualities, but they also put an emphasis on the old values between the kids and the animals.

She said the rodeo is unique for the outfits worn, traditions held, and ultimately, the close-knit group of parents and kids created.

“They say it takes a village to raise a family,” VanDerLeest said. “It’s a great group of parents and children, and everybody helping everybody out.”


Dennis Speck said kids and parents alike form bonds and friendships, and it is one of the main things that keeps the sport alive in Illinois. He said the sport can be very expensive, particularly starting out, due to animal maintenance and traveling expenses.

He said the association typically retains kids from the youngest age groups and up but welcomes any older ones who want to get started in the sport. He said there is a camaraderie in the circuit, and everyone assists in teaching the ropes of the rodeo.

“I don’t care if it’s my kid or the next kid, I just enjoy watching the kids have fun,” Dennis Speck said. “They can be competitive and have fun at the same time.”

There is no prize money at the junior rodeo, only awards and belt buckles to keep the kids coming back.

While there are no cash prizes in the IJRA, Lynnette Speck said it is a good opportunity for the kids to get noticed and eventually pick up sponsorships if they decide to move on to the high school divisions and beyond. She said Illinois is not considered to be a top state for rodeo competitions, but some of the western states like Wyoming and Nebraska offer better chances for riders to get noticed.

Dennis Speck said the family has become more involved with the rodeo as the kids have developed an attachment to it, but of the five states they travel to for competitions, Illinois remains one of the least advocated states in the junior rodeo circuit.

“Unfortunately to me, Illinois is not a big rodeo state,” Dennis Speck said. “It’s a big horse state with a lot of barrel racing, but when it comes to rodeo and rough stock, this probably has the lowest turnout.”

While the rodeo may not be growing in Illinois, VanDerLeest said she is convinced the sport will carry on for future generations because of its rich history. She said it is a way of life.

“Rodeo is a sport, but it also goes back to the old west cowboy tradition,” VanDerLeest said.