One of the Pine Belt’s most entertaining events is just around the corner, as the Southern Miss Coca Cola Rodeo returns to Forrest County’s James Lynn Cartlidge Multipurpose Center Feb. 17-18. The 27th edition of the rodeo will be presented by The University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Recreational Sports.
Russ Hendley, division vice-president of Hattiesburg Coca-Cola and a Southern Miss alum, will serve as the rodeo’s grand marshal. Referred to by some fans as the “Greatest Show on Dirt,” it serves as a fundraiser for Southern Miss scholarships.
“I’m honored and looking forward to serving as the rodeo’s grand marshal,” Hendley said. “I’ve enjoyed watching this event grow over the years, and as a Southern Miss graduate, it pleases me to know that it is supporting scholarships to help give students the same opportunity for a great education like the one I received.”
The rodeo will be in the Main Arena of the center, where it has been held since the facility opened in 1999. The event was first presented at the former Southern Miss Equestrian Center in 1986.
“We’ve got another great rodeo planned this year,” said Sid Gonsoulin, associate vice president of student affairs and director of recreational sports at Southern Miss. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone involved, and it also helps students at the university pursue their academic and career goals. We’re grateful to the event’s fans and sponsors for their support.”
Contestants are awarded both points and cash prizes for competing and placing in the event’s various categories, with point totals helping in their pursuit of qualification for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev.
Some of the country’s top professional cowboys and cowgirls will compete in the local event’s categories of competition, including bareback riding; saddle bronc riding; steer wrestling; team roping; calf roping; women’s barrel racing and bull riding.
Fans of the Southern Miss Coca-Cola Rodeo can also look forward to being entertained again by one of the event’s most popular celebrities, six-time ProRodeo Clown of the Year Lecile Harris. Harris has worked rodeos in various capacities for more than half a century, and gives nearly 125 performances a year at the world’s biggest rodeos. He got his start as a bullfighter in the 1950’s and ‘60s and was instrumental in transforming the sport from thrill show to a skillful art.
He has also appeared on various TV shows, including as a regular role on “HEE HAW” and on the big screen in “The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James” and “W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings” with Burt Reynolds, among other films.
Rodeo tickets are available at TJ’s Western Ware on U.S. Highway 49 in Hattiesburg. Tickets are $10 and all seats are reserved. Tickets will also be on sale beginning at 1 p.m. the day of the show at the Forrest County Multi-Purpose Center.