When thinking of ways to evangelize, most people probably don’t think of using a sport that involves getting thrown off an animal with horns on its head. But Earl Proctor does.
“I’m not blessed to go up to strangers and share the Gospel,” Proctor said. “I’m not that; my wife is. This was an avenue for me. There’s no reason I can’t do this to show the love that we have for our savior.”
Earl and Carie Proctor’s ProEdge Arena holds bull-riding shows on Saturdays at 7 p.m. in Osseo and is the only competitive location for the sport in Hillsdale County. In addition to becoming a community hot-spot, the business fulfills the Proctors’ dream of continuing to be a part of bull riding, after Earl Proctor retired from the sport.
Located 12 minutes from Hillsdale College at 2325 Blackbridge Road off a dirt road, ProEdge opened its doors Oct. 29 to around 250 spectators. Since then, attendance has bucked to more than 600 people a night, as families come to watch professional bull riders compete for $500.
“It’s better than we anticipated,” Earl Proctor said. “People keep coming out. They came to the first one and haven’t stopped. It blows us away that people enjoy it that much.”
The shows feature an open competition as well as novice-level riders along with music, games, giveaways, and pyrotechnics. The event also includes prayer, Christian music, and crosses hanging in the front of the arena, but Proctor said he doesn’t want it to feel like church, just a wholesome environment.
“I like the environment, the Christian atmosphere,” said Heidi Olinger of Osseo, who attends the shows with her husband nearly every week and attends church with the Proctors at The Hub in Hillsdale. “It’s exciting to watch, and [the Proctors] really care about the well-being of the riders. They’re in good hands.”
The open competition includes a long and short round. In the long round, riders draw at random a bull to ride. They have to stay on the bull for eight seconds one-handed, while two judges score the rider out of 25 points each. They also score the bull based on how much it bucks, how fast it spins, and whether or not it changes direction. Most of the bulls at ProEdge score a 19 or 20 per judge, Proctor said. The final score is out of 100.
“The bull level is well-suited for the riders,” said Kelsey Thomasek of Blissfield, whose brother frequently rides at ProEdge. “It’s family owned, but it’s very professional.”
In the short round, the highest scoring rider choose the bull he or she will ride first and go on from there. The athletes compete again, and the judges add their scores from both rounds together. The rider with the highest wins the money.
Local businesses also sponsor ProEdge and its 39 bulls. At the end of each six week series, the business that sponsors the bull with the best scores wins $2,000. Proctor said there has been so much interest, he’s had to turn away sponsors.
“It’s been fantastic, because I’m a horrible salesman,” Proctor said.
Before opening ProEdge, Proctor was a professional bull rider and competed for 16 years across the United States and Canada since the age of 11.
“They call us adrenaline junkies,” Proctor said. “It’s great. You’re working for yourself. You’re not answering to a boss. You enter, pay the fees, and play good. It’s not like basketball, baseball — if you don’t perform, you don’t get money.”
Nine years ago, Proctor left bull riding when he and his wife had their son, Strand. To make money and stay connected to the sport, Proctor said he wanted to open an arena, but the Proctors wanted to do so without getting into debt, he said. Reaching that goal, however, proved difficult.
At the age of 18, the Hillsdale native and his wife bought a house to renovate and re-sell. Then, the housing market crashed. Selling it was a challenge. The Proctors, however, kept working and saving.
“What we learned behind this is that if you put God first, then he’ll bless it,” Earl Proctor said. “There’s been a hundred instances that weren’t supposed to work out, and they did.”
The most progress has been made in the past eight years, beginning about the time when the Proctors had their son and started attending church. That revolutionized the mission of their work, Proctor said.
“I was a believer but not so much a follower,” he said. “ProEdge became something to glorify him by and not just an income.”
Proctor said he wants ProEdge not only to show his faith to spectators but also to riders. He said growing up in rodeo showed him the party culture surrounding the sport. Instead, he said he hopes ProEdge can be an example to the riders from across Michigan and Ohio who range from high school age to 20-somethings and show that life is about something greater.
“I’m not a great Christian either,” Proctor said. “But I think I can inspire people who don’t think they can be saved. ‘If that guy can do it, I can do that.’”
Friends of the family, however, disagreed, saying the Proctors are the most selfless people they know.
“Their door’s always open,” Heidi Gautz of Adrian said. “If there were an emergency a 3 a.m., they’d be willing to help.”
ProEdge Arena’s events are $8 for adults, $5 for children 6-12, and free for children 5 and under. To purchase tickets to all six events in a series, the cost is $40 for adults and $30 for children. In the midst of a series now, ProEdge begins its next session Feb. 19.
Looking ahead, the Proctors have plans to add more bull pens in the spring, and they hope to have even more people come experience the sport they love, Proctor said.
“They say people watch NASCAR for the wrecks,” he said. “Bull riding, you’re guaranteed a wreck.”