Rodeo clown JJ Harrison dons an inflatable suit at the Paneawaw Rodeo in Hilo, Hawaii. - Photo courtesy of JJ Harrison


Professional cowboys — most ranking among the top 20 in the world — will strap on their spurs for the Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo, to be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 31 to June 2, in the Compton Arena at the Jackson County Fairgrounds and Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point.

Bareback rider Bobby Mote, all-around cowboy Josh Peek, steer-wrestlers Luke Branquinho and Shawn Greenfield, Eagle Point's own Mert Bradshaw and others will compete for a $35,000 purse in nail-biting performances of bull-riding, saddle-bronc and bareback riding, steer-wrestling, barrel-racing and roping events at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned event.

The action begins at 7 p.m. each day; gates open at 6 p.m.

Professional rodeo announcer Will Rasmussen and rodeo clown JJ Harrison will provide play-by-play narration of the events.

"We sound like two guys hangin' out and watchin' sports," says Harrison, who has worked rodeos all over the U.S. for six years with the PRCA.

"I bet I know 90 percent of the cowboys who will enter," he says. "I've got buddies all over the place."

Harrison says he appreciates what the cowboys do because he competed in bull- and bronc-riding and timed events during high school and his college days at Washington State University.

"I think I'm the only clown with a master's in teaching and education," he says.

Harrison's first job as a rodeo clown is to keep the cowboys safe from bucking bulls, runaway broncs and other animals, but a close second is making sure the audience is entertained. He dons face paint and funny clothes, sometimes dressing in hysterical, blow-up suits, and gets the crowd cheering during the rides.

"I'm one of those people who likes to entertain," Harrison says. "I was the class clown my whole life. I don't rehearse. I just work off the cuff. The advantage is that my stuff is fresh at each rodeo, so I keep getting invited back."

Rodeo clowns not only entertain, but provide comic relief during any tough situations at shows.

While the bulls are scary, the animals these days are bred to buck, go out and do their jobs and then head back to the grain buckets.

"The runaway rodeo queens are scarier," Harrison says. "They'll be riding along, waving at the crowd and run right over you. I've had numerous near misses.

"Sometimes there's tough injuries, and a clown can say something to make the fans feel OK and laugh. Other times it's best to keep the crowd quiet, like when a cowboy is having trouble with his horse. Timing is everything.

"For me, the most thrilling part of a rodeo is not the bulls and the broncs," Harrison says. "It's when I've got a crowd hooked. A guy like me can create a connection between the cowboys and the fans. And I'm a kid magnet. I love kids."

Harrison is based in Walla Walla, Wash., where he worked for many years as the dean of students at a special education school. He works with 4-H organizations, kids fairs and presents motivational speeches that speak out against bullying.

This is the fourth time he's performed at the Central Point Rodeo.

"It's a good venue," Harrison says. "The arena is nice and loud, and the people in Southern Oregon like to have fun. When they leave the rodeo, I want them to say 'Hey, that clown was funny.' "

Dance parties will follow the rodeo events, with country band Sweet Little Town performing Friday in the Compton Arena and Snakebite performing Saturday in Padgham Pavilion. Kids can participate in rodeo activities each day at 5 p.m., including roping and pony rides.

Oregon's own Mackenzie Carr — Miss Rodeo America — will make nightly appearances at the rodeo, and Thursday is Family Night, with four tickets for $40.

Advance tickets cost $16, $8 for ages 12 and younger, and are available at www.wildproroguerodeo.com. Tickets will cost $19, $8 for children, at the door. Call 541-774-8270.

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