June 7, 2005
By DOUGLAS HAIRSTON
Special to the Martinsville Bulletin
The Bicycle Safety Rodeo lassoed a herd of area children and their parents or guardians Saturday at Collins & McKee-Stone Funeral Home.
About 60-70 children, ages five to 12, turned out for the event to learn bicycle safety; get free helmets, elbow and knee pads; get their bikes repaired; eat popcorn, snow cones and Bojangles biscuits and have an overall good time. What's more, through a bike give-away-drawing, 24 lucky kids rode off with brand-new bikes.
Operating with a $20,000 grant from The Harvest Foundation and other donations from business, private and civic donators, the Martinsville Police Department, the lead organizer of the event, was able to stage the rodeo in the county Saturday following a long absence, said State Farm Insurance Agent Chip Wyatt. State Farm created and trademarked the children's bike safety program about 15 years ago, which now has become a national event, he said.
Clad in a blue and black helmet and straddling a blue bike, 11-year-old Jake Horne, son of James and Marcie Horne of Fieldale, said "the most important thing I learned is to wear a helmet (while biking) so that if you slam on the front brakes, you won't flip (over the handle bars) and bust your head."
He sounds like a kid speaking from experience.
In a chalk-lined parking lot in back of Collins Funeral Home -- plenty large enough to accommodate a herd of rambunctious kids and their bikes -- the children navigated through safety stations, learning safety procedures at each station.
There was the bicycle inspection stage. Got to have that bike in top-notch condition, you know. Then there was the "circle and changing direction stage," the "straight line control stage," the "weaving and maneuvering stage" and so on.
Hannah Goad and Skyler Prillaman, five-year-olds who got together to tag-team the course, said the one thing they learned is not to say bad words. Of course that admonition might come in handy when taking a nasty spill.
Ouch! but the helmets, elbow and knee pads they got for coming out ought to make that admonishment a bit easier to keep.
Skyler, daughter of C.D. and Emily Prillaman, said one of the most fun parts of the training course was "riding around the cones like a snake."
Even neighbor and care-giver Harry Henderson, who brought Skyler and her 11-year-old brother, Lucas, to the event, got a kick out of all that biking. "I've really enjoyed it," he said, while lounging in a grassy area under a tree. Henderson is a kindly man whose grandfatherly appearance fits well with the name that Skyler and Lucas have given him -- "Papa."
As for Hannah, getting a new helmet is very timely. Her parents, Randy and Frances Goad of Collinsville, are expecting their second child.
"I'm going to have a baby sister and the helmet I got now is too little," she said. "So I will give her that one when she gets a bit older."
Children who successfully completed the course were awarded a safety bicycle license, said Martinsville Police Officer Coretha Gravely, who helps direct the program with fellow officer Richard "Rick" Walker.
After getting his license, Gravely recalled with a laugh, one child piped up, "'Can I ride on the road now, mom?'"
Proving the adage "You're never too young to learn," Steve Perry, an employee of Collins Funeral Home, helped his three-year-old grandson, Elliot Underwood, navigate the straight-line course.
Elliot wasn't big on conversation, but he was pretty good getting that bike and those training wheels across the asphalt parking lot.
One of the most inspiring events of the day, however, had to have been the two sisters who gave their bikes to two children who did not have one when both the sisters won a bike in the bike drawings, said Coretha Gravely.
But the sisters weren't the only ones whose hearts were inspired to generosity by the event. Malik Gravely, the six-year-old son of Anthony Gravely and Malinda Brown of Mt. Valley, won a 16-inch bike in the drawing. Splayed over the bike like a pretzel, Malik said he was going to give the bike to his 14-year-old brother, Montez.
Nevertheless, there is nothing like winning a hot, flaming red bike that's "not too hot and not too cold, but is just right."
After getting his name drawn, Jonathan Loudermilk, who was there with his mother, Susanne Loudermilk, gushed, "This is really exciting; this is really exciting! I was hoping I would win!"
Besides serving up a good time, has the event reduced injuries from bicycle accidents? Ricky Walker of the police department said he could only point to anecdotal evidence, but added that when he took over the program some years back the city was averaging five to six child head-injuries per year from bicycle accidents.
Since the bicycle rodeo has taken off, that number has been reduced to "maybe one or two per year," he said.
And that's mighty good lassoing by anybody's score card.
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