FARMINGTON — After three years away, a rodeo returns to McGee Park's Memorial Coliseum tonight with a message: "Don't drink and drive."
The Ty Waybourn Memorial Rodeo, now in its eighth year, starts Friday and continues through Saturday. It honors the memory of Ty Waybourn, a rodeo athlete from Aztec killed by a drunken driver on Nov. 6, 2003, at the age of 16.
The two-day rodeo will feature 10 events, including bull riding, saddle bronc riding, calf roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling and, new this year, miniature bucking bull riding, for kids 12 and under.
Rodeo proceeds fund college scholarships for current and former area high school rodeo athletes.
"We give the scholarship to area rodeo high school kids, since they don't typically receive any help like other high school athletes," said Ty Waybourn's father, Mike Waybourn.
But this year, the Waybourns are adding an academic scholarship unrelated to rodeo athletics for an Aztec High School senior. The additional scholarship was inspired by Shanna Bird, who spoke on Tuesday during a scholarship awards banquet at Farmington High School about her son, David Bird, who was killed in a car accident 10 years ago this month, five months after Ty Waybourn.
"Everything we've gone through and who I want to get the message to on drunk driving made me say, 'I gotta do this,'" Mike Waybourn said. "It had an impact on me to hear their story. It meant a lot to me."
Profits from the last Waybourn rodeo in 2010 allowed $25,000 in scholarships to be awarded to 11 area rodeo athletes for college. Two of the first recipients of scholarships from the rodeo will return to ride tonight, Mike Waybourn said. Until July 31, students can pick up applications for the scholarships at Aztec Feed and Supply in Aztec or Waybourn Feed and Supply in Bloomfield.
Another special addition to the rodeo will be a member of the Waybourn family.
"This year, we have a new member of the rodeo, my granddaughter, named after Ty — three-week-old Tyla," he said. "She will be there to watch her mom compete in breakaway calf roping. We've been a rodeo family — shoot, I rodeo'd when I was in high school. Ty was a rodeo kid. We're a farm family. All my kids started young."
Ty Waybourn was third in the state in bareback bronc riding at the time of his death. Mike Waybourn will honor his son by leading a riderless horse around the rodeo grounds just after the rodeo's first event of the evening, bronc riding.
"He was sitting third in the state in that event. He was going to earn his first trip to the national finals had he lived," he said. "I hope I can get through it. It's a tribute to Ty and other victims who have lost a family member to a drunk driver. It's a very emotional event."
The moment is to remind everyone in attendance that the rodeo has a larger purpose than the events at coliseum this weekend. It's aimed at raising awareness of the dangers and damage caused by drinking and driving.
After an alcohol-related crash on Sunday near Country Club Drive that left a 7-year-old in critical condition, the rodeo's return is welcome and the message it sends about responsible driving is that much more important, said Farmington Police Deputy Chief Keith McPheeters.
"We absolutely support and applaud the Waybourn family for continuing to get the message out about alcohol-related accidents and fatalities," McPheeters said.
McPheeters said events like the Ty Waybourn Memorial Rodeo help inform and educate people on driving responsibly and have had a positive effect on San Juan County, especially looking at 30-year averages of incidents involving drunken drivers.
"We've made significant progress in the county, but that doesn't mean that we're any less vigilant or diligent to stop them," he said. "Back in the 1990s, our annual fatality rate in the county from DUIs was probably around 27 to 28. We're going on four or five years at a fraction of that number."