MARION — Thirty-five of the nation’s top bull riders will converge on an unlikely venue for a competitive outing this weekend.
Black Diamond Harley Davidson will host a Championship Bull Riding-sanctioned event as part of the Southern Pride Invitational. The weekend affair also features music, a barbecue cook-off and more.
“I’ve got the best of the best, the best riders and the best bulls,” said Luke Kelley, a Marion native and CBR world champion bull rider organizing that part of the festival. “It’s going to be a production Southern Illinois has never seen.”
The 35 competitors will compete in the opening round with the top 11 scorers advancing to the second and final round of competition. The rider with the highest aggregate score will be declared the winner.
Kelley will not be competing in front of his hometown crowd. With his role in producing the event, he wanted to avoid any perceptions of conflict.
Those in the bull riding industry are working to change the perception of the sport and to present it more in a category with racing and extreme sports. Kelley said he hopes the Southern Pride Invitational will help reinvigorate interest in Southern Illinois.
“To most people, a bull rider is nothing more than a redneck, a hillbilly or a country bumpkin,” he said. “It’s a lot more than that. I’ve spent my whole life trying to be the best. It takes a lot of hard work and training.”
The Southern Pride Invitational runs from Friday to Sunday, June 14-16. The CBR Horizon Series bull riding runs from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday in the Fest Field north of the Black Diamond Warehouse. Tickets for the bull riding are $30 and can be purchased in advance at southernprideinvitational.com.
Bull riding icon Tuff Hedeman will be among the competitors at the event.
Kelley said when he had his first experience with a bull at age 6, he never imagined his interest and passion for bull riding would become a viable career. Through the past several years, though, he’s managed to do that, earning his wage and reputation on the circuit.
“For me, my way out of Southern Illinois was to excel at bull riding,” he said. “It’s taken me all over the country, Canada, Mexico and even to Brazil.”
Now, his career has brought him back to his hometown to share his love with the community.