By Terrie Henderson, Times Correspondent
CRETE | The Windy City Rodeo is a labor of love for the organizers, contestants and volunteers who work through the sweat and mud each year to bring Crete a weekend full of what they dub "good, dirty fun!"
Held at the Six Guns Ranch & Arena on State Line Road, the rodeo concluded Sunday.
It's put on by the Illinois Gay Rodeo Association, which is part of the larger International Gay Rodeo Association. Spectators and contestants, some dressed in drag, sported full cowboy attire. This year marked the ninth Windy City Rodeo at the arena.
Rodeo Director Debbie Cowgur said all money from the event goes to two charities: Howard Brown Clinic in Chicago, one of the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health care organizations, and Vital Bridges, an HIV/AIDS outreach group in Chicago. Cowgur said the majority of rodeo contestants are gay or lesbian, but anyone can participate.
Shortly before the grand entry at noon Saturday, the song "Sin Wagon" by the Dixie Chicks blared over the loud speakers. The sun blazed down on the arena as people filled the bleachers.
Grand marshals Anthony Adamowski, Michael Cunningham and Jeff Geiger then were introduced to the crowd on a hay wagon. There was a prayer, flag presentation and singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "0 Canada." There also was a riderless horse ceremony, held as a way to remember those who have died.
Rodeo events included calf roping, chute dogging, mounted breakaway roping, team roping, bareback bronco riding, goat dressing, pole bending and the wild drag show.
Cowgur said the rodeo planners presented the idea of the rodeo to her in 2002. She said two years ago she took the reins as director.
"My husband and I love these guys;" Cowgur said. "They are like family to us. They take over Crete for the whole week!"
This year, there were 52 contestants, Cowgur said, adding her favorite events are the goat dressing, in which two people try to put pants on a goat, and the wild drag show, which consists of a man, woman and drag queen team trying to keep the drag queen on a steer.
"It is hysterical because the drag queens are all dressed up;" Cowgur added. Colleen Stewart, who now resides in Chicago but originally is from Highland, was named Miss Illinois Gay Rodeo 2010. Stewart, who is is on the executive board of the association, said a lot of hard work goes into planning the event.
Competitor Sam Kramer, of Boonville, Ind., said she has been a barrel racer for 25 years. Barrel racing, she said, is a speed event. Kramer said she'd like to see the younger generation embrace the rodeo, and said the event is a welcoming environment.
"There is so much sincerity and there is so much friendship," Kramer said. "All the money goes to charity. You can't make a living doing this - it's a love."