Hundreds of ropers and riders to compete in first Keath Killebrew Memorial Rodeo

by | Jul 25, 2023

‘Pen of Adrenaline’ will drop rodeo fans in the middle of the action as competitors from the U.S. and abroad face off in the nation’s largest IPRA rodeo

More than 600 cowboys and cowgirls will descend upon the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson this week to compete for a $150,000 purse at the first Keath Killebrew Memorial Rodeo. The bull riders and ropers will travel from far and wide to participate in the International Pro Rodeo Association’s largest competition in the U.S.

Local and regional cowpokes like Ryder Ladner of Kiln are gearing up for a fierce contest against rivals from the U.S., Canada, Australia and South America. Ladner, who cut his teeth roping at Hancock High School, Pearl River Community College and the University of West Alabama, will compete in calf roping and team roping events.

“This is the first time that we’ve had a big rodeo offered in central Mississippi like this,” Ladner says. “It’s very nice to be close to home while competing with people from all over the U.S. and other countries.”

The fast-paced, action-packed weekend of rodeo events July 28-29 will feature traditional favorites like bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing, with country music performances by Chapel Hart capping the evening July 28 and Drake Milligan closing the event July 29. 

Individual tickets for both nights range from just $15 to $30 and are on sale now through Ticketmaster. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the action begins at 7 p.m. both nights, and parking will be $10 each day.

“It’ll be the second largest rodeo in the world and the largest in the United States,” says Jeremy Smith of Deep South Rodeo, a lifetime rodeo fan and promoter.

Spectators will get to enjoy a wide range of rodeo entertainment, Smith says, including the “Pen of Adrenaline,” which will give a handful of rodeo fans the chance to be in the middle of the action. “When the bull riding starts, we build a little enclosure right in the center of the arena as the bulls are bucking,” Smith says. “They’ll be about as close as you can get without being a bullfighter.”

On both nights, rodeo organizers will ratchet up the fun with an event known as bull poker, in which riders take seats around a card table in the middle of the arena while a rodeo clown taunts a bull into striking them. “We’ll turn the bull loose, and the last person seated wins the money,” Smith says. “You won’t see that at any other rodeo around.” Each night, riders will also challenge bulls in a segment of freestyle ultimate bullfighting. The cowboys and cowgirls will face a bull more or less as equals as they try to outwit and outrun them. 

Playing the role of rodeo clown is Trent McFarland, a nationally recognized performer who has perfected his entertaining act over a lifetime of rodeo performances. McFarland will play a role in some of the bullfighting events, but will also entertain the crowd between all the riding, roping and wrestling action with themed comedic skits including Talladega Nights, the Wrangler Roadster, Dr. Donothing and His Cowboy Ambulance, the Great Who-Dunn-It Magic Show and more. 

Poplarville, Miss., natives Chapel Hart became overnight national sensations in July 2022, when the family trio performed an original song, “You Can Have Him Jolene,” on the audition episode of “America’s Got Talent” season 17. For only the second time in the show’s history, judges Simon Cowell, Sofia Vergara, Howie Mandell and Heidi Klum awarded them with a Golden Buzzer, ushering them straight to the competitive rounds. Country Music Television named Chapel Hart to the 2021 class of Next Women of Country, and they released their third album, Glory Days, in 2023.

Drake Milligan, a country singer who hails from Mansfield, Texas, landed the role of Elvis Presley in the 2017 CMT series “Sun Records,” and placed third in season 17 of “America’s Got Talent.” In September 2022, Stoney Creek Records released his debut album, Dallas/Fort Worth, and landed the song “Sound Like Something I’d Do” in the top 40 of country music airplay in January 2023.

Proceeds from the rodeo will benefit the Keath Killebrew Charisma Award Fund at the Community Foundation for Mississippi, established to help encourage and educate the next generation of Mississippi farmers by awarding scholarships to young men and women interested in working in the agricultural field.

The Keath Killebrew Memorial Rodeo’s namesake, an ambitious Delta farmer, father, husband, artist and entrepreneur, passed away in a plane crash in December 2021 while scouting for a new farming venture in Paraguay. The lifelong Mississippian farmed cotton, soybeans, rice, peanuts, wheat and watermelon across six counties throughout the Delta and surrounding hills from Senatobia to Flora. 

Keath’s curiosity and zeal for life also led him to raise cattle, tend bees and teach welding at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. At age 40, he expanded his passion for capturing the magic of Delta landscapes from photography to painting, a hobby he shared with his wife, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Alyssa Killebrew, who survives him along with their children, is spearheading these efforts so his legacy can inspire others.

“Keath truly lived his life like he was preparing for a bull ride,” Alyssa says. “He was always creating new ventures with his businesses and always excited to work hard, and that’s what bull riding and preparing for rodeos is all about. You know you’re gonna get bucked off, and he did many times as he was trying to build a farm operation. But he always got back on and always kept trying.”

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