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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Cowgirls gets an early start
By JESSICA VANDER VELDE, Times Staff Writer
Published February 8, 2008
Bethalan Bishop, 7, plays around her Brahman cow, Needle, after showing her in competition at the Florida State Fair.
[Carrie Pratt | Times]
TAMPA - The 1,000-pound cow saunters next to Bethalan Bishop as she leads it around the show ring at the Florida State Fair. Her heifer, Needle, is half a foot taller than 7-year-old Bethalan, but the crowd can see her long pigtails bounce when she turns the cow around.
She smiles sometimes, and bats her eyes at the judges. It helps, she says.
During the fair's opening day Thursday, Bethalan showed Needle against cows led by men in their 40s and 50s. She was the youngest person in the open-class competition - much more youthful than most people judge Jacob Tipp has seen in his 17 years of showing.
The men are almost twice her height, but they don't intimidate Bethalan. She knows she can still win.
"Because I think my cow's better," she said.
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Ribbons and glory drew the cattle folk to opening day. For others, Thursday was about the rides, fried food and shows like the new, glitzy Las Vegas revue, featuring an Elvis impersonator and sequined showgirls.
The weekday afternoon crowd was light, though a few people took on the Rope Ladder. The idea: hang on, climb slowly and try making it to the top of the twisting ladder.
Cheri Bailey, 16, of St. Petersburg tried her hand at darts, where she popped balloons and scored a small, stuffed Rottweiler. She didn't think the game was worth $10 but wanted a diversion while sticking around for the deal on wristbands for the midway rides.
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Bethalan and the cattle ranchers were too busy tending animals to visit the midway. At most, she'll go down the big slide, she said. That's just fine with her. She's comfortable sitting on one of her family's cows. She chats with fairgoers, telling them everything they want to know about Brahman cows.
Bethalan will compete against kids her own age next year because she'll be old enough to show with 4-H and Future Farmers of America, but not everyone is looking forward to her turning 8.
"When she gets into 4-H, she's going to be beating all of us," Briton Leverette, 12, of Trenton, said.
Bethalan's got a lot of experience for a 7 year old because she's been showing cattle since she was 3. She first showed a 900-pound heifer while her dad, Mark Bishop, trailed behind her.
Bethalan plans to become the American Junior Brahman Association queen, like her 16-year-old sister Briana, did last summer.
Bethalan, Briana and their sister Brandalyn, 12, are homeschooled so they can travel with their parents to show their cattle. They've bypassed dance lessons for cattle.
"I'm not into that kind of stuff," she said while standing in the ring. "I like things that run."
On Thursday, it paid off. She took a second-place ribbon.
Tickets: $10 for 12 and older, $5 ages 6-11 and free for 5 and younger. Today is student day. Tickets are $6 for students from age 12 through high school. The Las Vegas revue shows are 3, 5 and 7 p.m., and armbands good for most rides are $25.
Details: The fairgrounds open at 9 a.m. and the midway opens at 11 a.m., except for Saturday and Sunday, when it opens at 10 a.m. There will be a parade at noon each day.