Rodeo clown gets up close and personal
By RANDY GONZALES
HILL CITY -- He might appear to be clowning around, but being a rodeo clown is serious business for Greek Ellick Jr.
That happens when a 2,000-pound ornery bull takes a liking to you.
Fortunately for Ellick and the two bull fighters he worked with Monday night, nobody was seriously hurt at the 61st annual Jayhawker Roundup Rodeo.
Ellick has had his share of injuries through his years in the arena.
"It happens, it's a full-contact sport; you're playing rugby with a 2,000-pound animal," Ellick said. "I've had my jaw broke, both my knees operated on, and looking at a shoulder right now -- really don't want to do that."
Andy North, one of the two fighters working with Ellick, has not been injured -- so far.
"I have been pretty fortunate, I have not been hospitalized yet," North said. "I've been having a pretty good go.
"It's as dangerous as we make it. We're professionals, that's the big thing. Not taking any unnecessary chances, understanding where we need to be."
The other fighter Monday, Josh Rivinius, appeared to be stepped on by a bull, but kept on doing his job, which is to protect the cowboys riding those bulls.
"When they're out there, we're there to get run over so they don't," North said. "That's our job."
Ellick said the two fighters who distract the bulls play important roles.
"Andy and Josh are the firemen of the arena," he said. "When everybody else is running out, they're running in to grab 2,000 pounds of hamburger that wants to tear your head off."
Ellick's job is to entertain the crowd during lulls between events. He has a microphone and earpiece he uses to talk to the crowd and the announcer while doing pre-planned skits.
"My main job is comedy and entertainment, take up the slack moments," he said. "Kind of like the 30-second Super Bowl commercial."
During the bull riding, Ellick is in his barrel at a distance from the gate where the bull comes charging out. He's ready to be a human pinata, if necessary.
"My main job in the barrel is comedy relief, but when things get really tight -- a bull might get somebody down -- I'll scoot the barrel up and come running.
"Anything to distract him, get him away, and everybody can get away, safe haven type of deal."
One of the bull riders the fighters made sure stayed safe was Corey Granger, from Zachary, La. Monday was one of those nights for Granger, who didn't stay atop the bull Without Warning the required eight seconds to score points.
"Just a bad night," Granger said.
Even so, Granger enjoys the rodeo circuit, traveling from town to town, state to state.
"I love it, got to love it to do it," he said. "My dad did it, all my family did it pretty much."
Ellick, from Rogersville, Ala., has been a fighter and a rodeo clown ever since he was little.
"Dad used me as a kid in clown acts," Ellick said. "Actually drew my first paycheck for fighting bulls at a junior rodeo when I was 6 years old. I knew what I wanted to do from that time on."
North, from Piedmont, Okla., teaches graduate courses at Southwestern Oklahoma State University when he isn't having bulls chasing him.
"Everybody's got something," said North, who enjoys the camaraderie and friends he's made on the circuit. "Some people go to the gym, some people go to a rifle range. I go to rodeos."
Bull riding was the last event Monday. Some events before it, such as the roping events, seemed to be hampered by the muddy arena. No problem with the bull riding -- just hang on for dear life.
Dale Newell of Damar said he enjoyed all the events, but really liked the bull riding.
"Save the best for last," said Newell, who also plans to attend Kansas' Biggest Rodeo in Phillipsburg, which has performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The Jayhawker Roundup Rodeo continues at 8 p.m. today and Wednesday.
While North is taking a short break before his next rodeo -- he's teaching class Thursday -- Ellick will pack up after Wednesday's final performance and head for a rodeo that starts Monday in Missouri.
He averages between 60,000 and 70,000 miles a year on the road, from January through October.
"It's a full-time job, really," he said.
"It's as busy as a guy wants to make it," North said. "Like Greek talked about, this is his livelihood."