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Under pressure: Local charities to lose funding with rodeo canceled

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, April 6, 2019
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Giving Event

GIVING EVENT – WC Challenger Charities, founded by (from left) Andrew Rottner, Calvin Jackson, Wendell Berry, Alan Sessions and the late Roy Young, has donated $1.1 million to charities since it began in 2004. Messenger archive photo

Executive Director Martin Woodruff has seen some adversity in his nearly 30-year tenure with United Way of Wise County.

Each time, whether it be the sale of a local business or change in management, creating a donation dip, the non-profit has found a way to continue to serve Wise County and its local charities.

Woodruff said the recent series of unfortunate events, which includes Devon Energy’s impending sale of local assets, cancellation of the Battle of Big Sandy and its subsequent fundraisers, and most recently, the suspension of the JW Hart PBR Challenge, all of which occurred in the last 12 months, might prove to be the biggest challenge yet.

“These things create a ripple effect,” Woodruff said. “We can overcome. It’ll be hard. But you have to be tested sometimes.”

On Tuesday, WC Challenger Charities announced the JW Hart PBR Challenge is canceled this year after the PBR Unleash the Beast tour added a stop in Green Bay, Wis., which overlapped with the date held by the Wise County event since 2004.

Every year WC Challenger Charities contributes roughly $25,000 to the United Way of Wise County, which in combination with the UWWC golf tournament, covers its operating expenses.

“They’ve made a major contribution every year since it started,” Woodruff said. “The contribution they make is designated to our operating fund. That $25,000 is roughly half [of the operating fund]. It’s pretty significant to us and pretty difficult for us to come up with a replacement.”

The contributions from the two events allow 100 percent of donations to UWWC to go directly to local charities in Wise County, Woodruff said.

“This last year has been tough,” he continued. “If we have a really successful golf tournament, we might be able to generate about $20,000 or so. At this point, the pressure is on for our board to go out and have a really successful golf tournament.”

The date for the JW Hart PBR Challenge was put on the PBR schedule in August 2018. WC Challenger Charities President Andrew Rottner found out in February PBR had scheduled the new event in Green Bay.

“It was a big surprise,” Rottner said. “But they have a business to run. We have had a 15-year relationship, and we plan to continue it.”

The JW Hart Challenge was the first PBR event that was operated solely as non-profit fundraiser. Rottner said since 2004, the Challenge has donated $1.1 million to local charities.

Supporting those charities and putting Wise County on the map with a great PBR competition has always been the focus of the event, Rottner said.

“The charitable aspect means a lot to us,” Rottner said. “It means $1.1 million back into the community over the past 15 years. The amount of generosity in this community is extraordinary. The response to the event has been great.

“… it’s also putting Decatur and Wise County in the spotlight,” Rottner added. “Putting the community on the map. The concept was to bring a top class event with the world’s best riders to Decatur, to have 3,000 people in the stands and to benefit our local entities.”

Rottner said he’s in talks with PBR, and the plan is to continue the event in 2020.

“We hope to come back with a bang,” Rottner said. “Hopefully taking the year off, it builds an appetite, and we make it worth their while.”

In the meantime, Rottner said there’s a contingency plan to help supplant local entities and the United Way of Wise County. He’s reached out to sponsors and has seen a welcome response by a few in holding a private event to help the United Way of Wise County and other charities make ends meet in lieu of the PBR event.

“The plan is to raise money for charities to put money in the bank for next year,” Rottner said. “A couple sponsors have expressed interest. It will likely be a private event trying to help them get to next year.”

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