20 years of riding Tuff

After the gates swing open and the dust settles inside the arena at the Webster County Fairgrounds, championship belt buckles will be awarded to the best bullriders around when Tuff-N-Nuff rodeo celebrates its 20th anniversary Friday and Saturday.

The action will begin at 7:30 p.m. on both nights. Cost is $13 per person. Children 6 and under get in free.

According to Johnny Hopkins, the Tuff-N-Nuff rodeo is where city kids turn into country kids.

“Some of our biggest joy comes from turning city kids into country kids,” Hopkins said “That’s what our miniature rodeo does. It gives these city kids a chance to come out and try something they’d never have a chance to do. We have turned a lot of city kids into country kids, and they have become world champions.”

Hopkins, of Dayton, and his family own the Tuff-N-Nuff Miniature Rodeo Association. Hopkins hopped on his first bull at 8 years old in Dayton, and hasn’t slowed his enthusiasm for the sport since.

He proposed to his wife, Peggy Hopkins, at a rodeo in Dayton in 1993.

Johnny Hopkins, a three-time state bullriding champion, no longer rides.

But he still enjoys seeing others get the same thrills he once did.

“I wanted to retire from bull riding, but wanted to stay involved in rodeo,” Johnny Hopkins said. “So nine years ago we started the Miniature Rodeo Association and my family has built it to the largest miniature association in the world.”

The Tuff-N-Nuff rodeo will put a cap on months of competition, he said.

“This event will determine the winners of the winter championship series,” Johnny Hopkins said. “We started in November and hosted two events per month up until April.”

“This event is for the championship,” he added. “Who gets crowned the champion during the winter series. We will give a championship belt buckle to each age group. This is Iowa’s largest winter series championship. No one is doing it bigger in the state of Iowa during the winter than what we are.”

Six age groups will compete: tiny tots, 4 and under; pee wees, 5- and 6-year-olds; juniors, 7 to 10 years old; seniors, 11 to14 years old; super seniors, 15 to 19 years old; and open, which is any age.

He said there are more riders in the older age groups.

“Once you get to the older age groups the numbers grow a little bit, but we have a huge following,” he said.

Johnny Hopkins said bullriding can appeal to any age group.

“We will have as young as 2-year-old kids riding miniature bulls at this event and we gradually move them up in their age group all the way to open bullriding,” Johnny Hopkins said. “We have bulls for each age group. This is what continues to build the sport of bullriding and rodeo is due to having the proper livestock for the proper age group.”

Miniature bulls are 48 inches or smaller, Johnny Hopkins said.

He said getting a rider off to a good start is key.

“Putting them on their first bull or their first bucking horse, no matter what age they are, we have the livestock for getting them off to a good start,” Johnny Hopkins said. “And we pride ourselves on that. We build their confidence one ride at a time.”

His advice to younger kids is to give it a try.

“Any young cowboy or cowgirl, if they have any interest in it just go out and try it sometime,” Johnny Hopkins said. “Come join us and we will help them get started, and they will find out if it’s for them or not for them. You won’t find a safer place to do it at than our association.”

The memories from the rodeo are priceless, Hopkins said.

One year, Shawn Thompson, a rodeo clown, dressed Johnny Hopkins like a girl for the St. Edmond Bull Riding Contest.

It also happened to be Hopkins’ birthday.

“That embarrassed the tarnation out of me,” Hopkins said.

Friday will be St. Edmond family fun night.

Hopkins’ son, Levi Hopkins, 20, is a St. Edmond High School graduate.

Levi Hopkins and his friend, Eddie Harvey, started the St. Edmond bull riding competition.

In 2013, Eddie Harvey, who is paralyzed on one side of his body, wanted a chance to ride a bull.

The Tuff-N-Nuff Miniature Rodeo Association made that wish a reality.

The result was a standing ovation from those in attendance. A tradition would follow as a way to recognize the best bull rider at the school.

“This bullriding contest is in Eddie and Levi’s name,” Johnny Hopkins said. “The winner of the bullriding trophy gets their name on the trophy and it sits in the St. Edmond trophy case.”

Johnny Hopkins said seeing Harvey tackle the challenge of riding a bull was special.

“It makes me really proud to be a part of history with St. Edmond and be part of the school that gave so much to us and giving kids the opportunity to do something they never had to the chance to do,” he said.

A free dance will follow the rodeo on Friday.

“It’s no charge,” Hopkins said. “It’s kind of our personal gift to our crowd to have people come and enjoy our 20th anniversary.”

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